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[whitespace] Longs Drug Store to move into bank building on Avenue

Willow Glen--After months of waiting and listening to rumors swirling around the vacated Washington Mutual building, a new business has arrived--Longs Drug Store is moving onto Lincoln Avenue.

And some local businesses aren't too happy about their new superstore neighbor.

"Alas, another large corporation," says Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee's Books.

Lewis and other independent store owners worry that mega-stores sprouting up in Willow Glen and in other distinctive communities will continue to push the independents out of business. That, they say, will destroy Willow Glen's small-town charm.

"How sad it is that we don't have an independent drugstore that can come into our wonderful, rare community," Lewis says. "The big picture is that Willow Glen is going to succeed only as long as we keep it a rare and special place."

On the other hand, some business people on the Avenue say Longs is a welcome addition. It will be the only drugstore in downtown Willow Glen among the collection of retail shops, restaurants, banks and boutiques.

"It's progress," says Demetri Rizos, the Willow Glen Business and Professional Association's business manager. "I think it will be another great asset to the Avenue. Those people who have an anti-chain mentality do not speak for all of Willow Glen. We, the business and professional association, would like to continue to see a great combination of both [chain and indie stores] along the Avenue.

"It's a great location for a Longs, it's got plenty of parking in the back, and it will be a benefit to the business community as well as the residents themselves," Rizos adds.

According to a Longs spokesperson, a target opening date has not been set for the incoming drug store. Longs officials have just begun to work with an architect on the remodel plan, spokeswoman Nancy Cockerham says. Preliminary plans, she says, include "utilizing the bank building and remodeling it with a slight addition. We will be enlarging the bank area somewhat."

Neighborhood meetings will be held to develop a design for the store, Cockerham says, but at this point, no meetings have been scheduled.

"It is always our intention as we design a store to work with the community to get input on the development of the site," Cockerham says.

After the blueprints are drawn up, Longs will present them to the planning director before construction will begin. Neighbors within 300 feet of the building will receive notice of the public hearing.

Longs officials say the new Willow Glen store is a case of supply and demand.

"We don't service that area currently, and we have received several comments from customers traveling to our stores in other neighborhoods," Cockerham says. "They have told us that they wish there was a store closer to them."

There is a need for a drugstore on Lincoln Avenue, says Michelle McGurk, chief of staff for Willow Glen's Councilman Frank Fiscalini.

"Where does a customer go to buy some aspirin, or some diapers?" McGurk asks. "We have a lot of families with young children, and we have a lot of seniors in Willow Glen. It's that type of necessity-use store that we need."

Several business districts around the Bay Area have drugstores that blend in well with the neighborhood, McGurk adds, using Palo Alto's University Avenue Longs Drugs as an example.

And although it is a chain store, Longs is somewhat local. It's based in Walnut Creek.

"It's a very different thing from having another chain coffee shop or a chain bagel store," McGurk says. "It's a use we don't have on the Avenue and I don't think we're going to get an independent pharmacy."

Some Lincoln Avenue business owners tell a different story, however.

Chris Carris, owner of Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Company, says adding another chain to the Avenue will ruin Willow Glen's unique character.

"They're going to destroy the village," Carris says. "Let's keep the same ambiance here. I think it's very important. I have nothing against Longs--I shop there--but the village has got to remain intact."
Jessica Lyons

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Web extra to the September 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro.

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