The Mystery of Duane Reade
The aisles are an obstacle course, the staff moves at glacial speed, and the prices aren’t even that low. So how did it become the only place you’d ever think to go for your tube of Aquafresh?
Inside the Duane Reade on the corner of Delancey and Ludlow on the Lower East Side, a thick white guy in dusty construction boots ruminates on a display of Ben-Gay and its generic counterparts. “Didn’t know how much they cost,” he mutters as he puts one down and picks up another. “You gotta be kidding me!” he says finally, and stalks out past the dozen other shoppers reading product labels with the quiet deliberation of people considering books from an unknown author. The store looks disheveled and lived-in, as if it had grown organically through years of trial and error, not through anything as prosaic as a retail “planogram.” In the front window display, food is haphazardly stacked next to diapers and window cleaner, and, in a fit of absurdity, only one item has its price tagged: Johnson & Johnson baby powder, $2.99.
Duane Reade ought not to be successful. The prices aren’t particularly low and the staff isn’t particularly helpful. And the often cramped and disorganized stores offend the boutique sensibilities of New Yorkers. “I just happened to be in a Duane Reade, and the entire time I contemplated how poorly planned the shops are,” says Karim Rashid, the industrial designer whose clients range from Acme supermarkets to Armani. “How bromide and miserable and vacuous the place is, how completely unaesthetic. What a poor experience.”
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