Our Past

"By making certain drug items himself, Mr.Walgreen was able to ensure their high quality, yet offer them at lower prices than comparable merchandise."

Walgreens - Our Past

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Two Minute Drill

"Two Minute Drill"

Whenever a customer in the immediate area telephoned with an order for non-prescription items, Walgreen always repeated - loudly and slowly - the caller's name, address and items ordered. That way, assistant and handyman Caleb Danner could quickly prepare the order. Then Walgreen would prolong the conversation by discussing everything from the weather to current events. Invariably, Caleb would be at the caller's door before she was ready to hang up. She would then excuse herself and return to the phone amazed at the incredible speed with which her order had been delivered.

While Walgreen couldn't do this for customers living farther away, those who did benefit from it were thrilled and delighted to tell their friends about Charles Walgreen and his incredible service.

Chicago's South Side would remain for many years Walgreen's base of operations and the locale for the first wave of stores he was to eventually open. By transforming one quiet, average drugstore, Charles Walgreen had shaken up the entire drugstore business.

And it was, in fact, in the soda fountain - where milkshakes had long been a staple of American drugstores - that Walgreen's next innovations took place.

The Second Walgreens Store

Our hot food brought a warm reception

The year was 1910. Walgreen now had two stores. His challenge: how to find ever-new ways of satisfying a growing customer base while outshining his competitors.

Over the preceding 100 years, the soda fountain had become key to virtually every American drugstore. Beginning in the early 19th century, bottled soda water, and later charged soda water, were considered important health aids, making it a natural fixture in drugstores. To dispense the icy-cold, charged water, a tin pipe and spigot were attached. Soon, flavored syrups were added to the fizzy water and still later, ice cream added to that. As sodas grew in popularity, so the "soda fountain" grew in beauty, ornamentation and importance as a revenue source to the drugstore.

Manufacturers vied in creating ornate fountains, with onyx counter-tops and fixtures of silver and bronze and lighting by Tiffany.

"Walgreens was no exception to such a popular trend. Indeed, its soda fountains were among Chicago's most beautiful. Yet the reality was that the items soda fountains served - ice cream and fountain creations - were invariably cold. And cold items sold only in hot weather. That meant each fall drugstore owners everywhere were resigned to mothballing their soda fountains until the warm weather returned. Thus, the drugstores lost an important revenue stream, not to mention valuable store space that could have been used for other, profitable purposes.

Acceptance of the status quo, however, was not one of Charles Walgreen's strong points. His response to this dilemma was typically double-barreled: an idea that benefited his customers as much as his company.

"Why not serve hot food during cold weather?"

Beginning with simple sandwiches, soups and desserts, Walgreen was able to keep his fountain open during the winter and provide his customers with affordable, nutritious, home-cooked meals. And the food was home cooked, thanks to Myrtle Walgreen, Charles' wife. All menu items - from her chicken, tongue and egg salad sandwiches to bean or cream of tomato soup to the cakes and pies - were prepared by Myrtle Walgreen in their home kitchen. She rose at dawn and finished cooking by 11 a.m., and the food was then delivered fresh to Walgreen's two stores.

Interior of a Walgreens store

As a result of this common-sense innovation, Walgreen once again demonstrated his knack for helping his company while better serving the public. From then on, through the 1980s, food service was an integral part of the Walgreens story. Every Walgreens was outfitted with comfortable, versatile soda fountain facilities serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just as Walgreen had reasoned, customers coming to the stores for Interior of a Walgreens storefood usually stayed to purchase other necessary items. And with its friendly waitresses, wholesome food and fair prices, loyalty to Walgreens increased exponentially.

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