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Walgreens in crime-ridden Chicago keeps almost no inventory on public shelf, forces customers to order most items from kiosk

Photo by: Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A Walgreens in downtown Chicago has recently remodeled its entire store so that self-directed shopping is severely limited and most store inventory is kept hidden in the back. The company hopes this new store model will "enhance the experiences of our customers and team members."

According to CWBChicago, the Walgreens located on East Roosevelt Road, just a few blocks west of Shedd Aquarium, had closed temporarily for renovation and reopened just after Memorial Day. The changes made during that renovation were astonishing. Rather than aisle after aisle of towering shelves stocked with inventory, the store now offers just two low-rising shelves, no higher than five feet tall, filled with only the "essentials." All "non-essentials" are kept behind walls guarded with anti-theft protection devices, and customers must use kiosks to order those items.

The "essential" and "non-essential" labels might be misleading though. According to the outlet, items such as deodorant are considered "non-essential" and kept out of reach of shoppers while potato chips, candy, and other junk food items are neatly displayed on a shelf designated for "essentials" only.

Walgreens has marketed the new store concept as a way to ease the shopping experience. "Let us do the shopping," says a sign posted near an ordering kiosk, while another sign suggests that patrons "relax while we shop for you." A Walgreens spokesperson claimed that the store "will continue to offer retail products and pharmacy services, just with a new look and feel that focuses on shopping digitally for convenience."

Despite the positive spin from Walgreens, many news outlets have suggested that the store was revamped to prevent theft. The Western Journal claimed that the so-called "essential" items are really just the least expensive items in the store which are not "typically shoplifted." The Daily Caller, citing multiple reports, likewise said that the store was renovated "to fight the rising incidents of shoplifting."

And CWBChicago described the shopping experience at the store as just plain "weird." A reporter from the outlet who visited the store claimed that two employees monitored the area where shoppers may roam freely. While there, the reporter also attempted to purchase a Coca-Cola — a "non-essential" item that had to be retrieved from the back — on a self-checkout machine. Unfortunately, the machine overcharged for the beverage, and both store clerks had to intervene before the reporter was finally charged the correct amount.

A Chicago resident who lives near the store and who was curious about the renovations claimed to have received an email from the company. A copy of the alleged email, viewed by CWBChicago, stated in part that the "redesigned store will have the latest in e-commerce offerings to increase customer service, mitigate theft and increase safety for customers and employees—all the while, continuing to have a full service pharmacy for our patients" (emphasis added). However, a Walgreens spokesperson denied that the email was ever "sent from Walgreens to a customer."

Whatever Walgreens' motives for drastically revamping that particular store, crime in Chicago remains a real problem. Theft in the city rose a staggering 19% in 2021, according to Fox Business, even as crime spiked across the country the previous year during the riots after the death of George Floyd. Last weekend alone, 50 people in the city were shot, and 10 of those gunshot victims, including a 14-year-old boy, died from their injuries.

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