Monday, January 26, 2009

Eckerd Drugs 1898-2007

One thing you can be certain of, I wasn't about to let Eckerd slip away without a post on Georgia Retail Memories about it. Eckerd was not native to Georgia, arriving in the early 1980's upon acquisition of the faltering Treasury Drug chain owned by JCPenney. Ironically, JCPenney ultimately purchased Eckerd later on, leading to its demise.

Night shot of the most updated Eckerd prototype, built in 2005. Note the neon "Welcome to Eckerd" inside the store. I believe this is still up at that location.

According to the history, Eckerd was the oldest chain drug store, founded in Pennsylvania in 1898. It was its expansion into Florida (yes, even store chains are snowbirds) that led to its eventually wide coverage along the eastern seaboard. In its final days, Eckerd was a major player against CVS, but lost the battle as the weakest contender against the return of Walgreen's after an almost 40 year hiatus in the Peach State.

This store came full circle. Rite-Aid originally built this store in Woodstock in the late 1990's, then abandoned their expansion plans in Atlanta. The store sat abandoned for awhile until Eckerd bought it and made it theirs. Not long after, here comes Rite-Aid about to take it back!

This store in Dahlonega was a typical late 1990's design built at the intersection of the by-pass and business routes of SR 9.

The final days of Eckerd were a rash of mergers after JCPenney had pretty well wiped out the chain. JCPenney seems to have been notoriously bad at managing off-store concepts, judging from their earlier failure with Treasure Island and Treasury Drugs. Eckerd survived for awhile under ownership of Jean Coutu Group, owner of the Canadian Brooks chain. It was noted that many store brands in Eckerd were actually labeled as Brooks/Eckerd.

Rite-Aid had been a strong player in the South, but was held out of the major markets by too stiff of competition. While very common in the smaller towns, it did not exist in the Atlanta market. In the late 1990's, Rite-Aid attempted to expand into the Atlanta area, but after building several free standing locations, instead ironically sold them to Eckerd after they sat vacant for several years. Rite-Aid came back in full force, however, in late 2007 with the change official in June and the conversion completed by the end of summer, and Eckerd is now a memory, ending a wild rash of consolidations that started in 2004.

These days, the future of Rite-Aid looks shaky from the purchase of Eckerd's. Rite-Aid's acquisition did not exactly turn around this white elephant of a drug store chain from what I have heard. Let's hope that is not the case, because the retail scene is already looking to be one full of carcasses with the current state of the economy.


  1. There were at least three Eckerd chains: Eria, PA (the original), Delaware, and Florida. They were owned by different branches of the same family. The Florida chain grew to be the largest, but it was poorly managed and survived on the the population growth of its Southeastern base, and the fragmentation of its competition, until the consolidations of the 90s.

    BTW, quite a few northern retail chains including Cleveland-based Gray Drug established Florida beachheads in the 50s: Jordan Marsh dept stores of Boston, the Food Fair and Grand Union grocery chains, among others. They saw where their customers were retiring and filled a vaccuum.

  2. Eckerd arrived in Georgia and Atlanta prior to the 1980's. The expansion of Eckerd and Revco during the 1960's played a big role in Walgreen's leaving Georgia.
    During the 1970's, most Georgia Eckerd Drugs were operated out of Charlotte, NC. In the late 80's, Eckerd expanded greatly in the Atlanta area by buying Marietta-based Dunaway Drugs.

    Treasury Drugs was somewhat more successful than Tresure Island, but less successful than the other drug chains JCPenney operated-Kerr in the Carolinas and Thrifty out of Pennsylvania. Tresury had even picked up most of Kroger's former SupeRx Drug locations in the late 80's. JCPenney sold the Treasury Drug chain to Revco prior to acquiring Eckerd in part to eliminate FTC concerns and divest a poor performing subsidiary in the process.

  3. We moved to Athens GA from Bainbridge, GA (south Georgia--just north of Tallahassee, FL) at the end of 2005 and I was surprised to see several Eckerd drug stores here. They had long since disappeared from the South Georgia/North Florida area.

    But they did not last long--within a little more than a year the local Eckerds were replaced by Rite Aid stores.

  4. The demise of Eckerd's was a big blow. I mean, growing up there was always an Eckerd's (and they were in GA in the '70's) and a Fotomat around the corner. Eckerd's was by far my favorite drug store change ..and i really hate to see the Rite Aid name up in it's place. I'm now a Walgreen's shopper.

  5. I was always a huge Eckerd's Drugs fan. Eckerd's have been around GA since the '70's. The first one I frequented was on Winters Chapel Road in Doraville, same shopping center as Winn Dixie and Monical's (later Michael's) Pizza.

    The original sign at this location did not look like to prototype that JT has posted above, it was a red neon lighted sign with fairly big lettering. I bought my first record album at that Eckerd's --Elton John's Greatest Hits.

    I despised the Rite Aid takeover --so much so that I make it a point to not go into one. These days I shop at Walgreen's.

  6. The Dahlonega Rite Aid/Eckerd recently burned due to arson. If Rite Aid rebuilds, they are committed to operating in the market. It will be interesting to see if CVS or Walgreens makes a move to open in Dahlonega now.

  7. does any remember REED Drugstores on the southside in the 70'2 80's?

    They had this stupid idea (same as treasury drug) to put 10 foot poles attached to the shopping carts so you couldnt "steal"them..but unfortunatly you also couldn't "steer" them

  8. I remember when my dad told me in 2004, that CVS had bought out all the Eckerds in Orlando. By 2005, the CVS had absorbed all the Eckerds in Orlando.

  9. Having worked for Eckerd in the early 80's let me clarify a few points.....

    There were at least 2 Eckerd's at one time - the nothern group (HQ in Charlotte) and the southern group (HQ in Clarwater, FL). By the time I started, the two had merged and HQ was in Florida.

    The chain was actually quite well run thru the 70's and 80's and grew to be the 2nd largest chain in the country at one point (based on # of stores). Very profitable, they operated their own network of distribution centers, their own photo labs (remember the 2 for 1 prints?) and even their own eyeglass labs to service the Eckerd Optical stores that were located in several of the drugstores.

    They made a few missteps along the way, including a weak attempt at a chain of consumer electronics stores in the mid-80's but generally were highly profitable.

    By the time Eckerd bought Dunaway Drugs' 16 stores, they were already firmly entrenched in the south. They converted some stores to Eckerd and closed several others that were in direct competition with existing stores.

    JCPenneys bought them at a time when Penney's own fortunes were on the decline and their chain of department stores was suffering. It was the profits from Eckerd's that kept JCP going during the time they owned them.

    But as the merger matured, the JCP people increasingly tried to remake the drug stores more like the department stores and the "drug store people" slowly left the ranks of management. Eckerd began their decline and JCP ended up splitting and selling the chain at a loss just to get rid of the drain on their bottom line.

    CVS bought the southern tier of stores, mostly Florida and westward to Texas, while Brooks/Coutu bought the stores in Georgia and northward. It is these northern stores that are now Rite-Aid stores.

    There are still quite a few Florida stores where it is still evident where they simply pained over the oval Eckerd signs and printed CVS directly over them.

    Sad to see what was once a very sucessful chain of drug stores chopped up and sold off like they were.

    1. I too worked at Eckerd drugs in the 80s as well you are correct on what you have said I remember the old photo lab drop of kiosks 2 for 1 the Eckerd mail truck would pick up the film every day the electronics section had balck plastic on the shelves for display models treasury drugs stated the down fall and a lot of good people left I worked in stores in south Carolina and north Carolina and it was the second largest at the time whit a intense manager program they had the optical as well as snack bars

  10. I remember REEDS very well; another "fancy" chain drug store we didn't have in little ole Fayetteville. I also have fond memories of Revco; I believe they had a location at the soeastern corner of Ga 85 & Ga 138? Where the big, frightful, delightful thrift store was located last time I was over there?
    ps will update my link asap- as always- fun and informative blog!

  11. Most important detail- I got my first set of color change markers at that Riverdale Revco! JWC

  12. I worked for Eckerd in the Kansas City market. They were a good company. Remember when CVS took over in 2004, one year later all os us managers no longer had jobs.