James Lileks
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News story: Amazon was casting around for another part of the world to take over, took a look at the pharmacology industry and said: Hey, why not?

The company announced it would be selling drugs, cheap, and within seconds, the stock price for all the big chains took a hit.

This might make you sad, for a moment:

“No! I like my neighborhood chain drugstore, indistinguishable from all others in its chain, but different from the other chain. Well, they both have red logos, but I have a card for one that gives me points. Hold on, I have a card for the other one, too, but I lost it, and whenever I enter my phone number, it’s the wrong one. I suppose I could go on the website and change it, but who has the time? Well, no, that’s not true, I’m home all day now staring at the computer, so I have lots of time, but it’s just not high on my list of things to do, so I go to the other store that has the red logo.”

That’s how I feel, anyway. I do like my neighborhood chain store. I haven’t been there since it was looted and damaged this summer. It reopened recently, huzzah! Down came the boards, revealing sheets of pristine glass!

Then, just before election day, up went the boards once again.

I haven’t checked today to see if we’re in Glass Mode or Wood Mode.

Here’s the thing: The shiny neighborhood chain drugstore put the old neighborhood drugstore out of business. When I moved into the neighborhood, the corner drugstore was a Rexall, a name that now lives in heaven with Red Owl and Studebaker.

It wasn’t the most up-to-date place. I recall dusty displays of figurines, ceramic grandma stuff. This seemed to be a staple of the neighborhood drugstore. “Hey, I’m going to the Rexall, need anything?”

“Yes, some Richard Hudnet Egg Shampoo, some Bonnie Bell 10-0-6 lotion and a ceramic Hummel knockoff of a little boy in lederhosen, singing.”

“Got it.”

The store couldn’t compete with the bright, dynamic chain across the street, and within a few years it was gone, remade, and turned into a Starbucks. That’s capitalism. In 60 years, Starbucks will be gone, and the space will be occupied by a shop that sells retinal implants that record your memories and play them back holographically.

“That’s silly,” you say. “Amazon will sell those. There won’t be any retail outlets for retina-mounted cerebral recorders.”

Good point. Anyway: when I was a stripling — by which I mean I frequently disrobed in public — the neighborhood drugstore was run by Mr. Johnson. I know what you’re thinking: the Mr. Johnson? No, probably a different one.

The store had record albums. It had glass grandma stuff. It was also between a jewelry store that had, among other things, glass grandma stuff, and a Ben Franklin that had, among other stuff, record albums. But the drugstore had something no one else had: antibiotics and cigarettes.

The pharmacy was the heart of the business, but between the front door and the window in the back was all manner of stuff.

That’s where you went for your Spider-Man comics. If you needed reading material, there were paperbacks on a wire rack that screeched like someone was sawing a crow in half. Mothballs and hair curlers. Christmas lights and penicillin. The independent drugstores occupied a unique retail space in the commercial landscape. And while you can say that the chains do the same, it’s different.

The chains are top down. Mr. Johnson lived on the block, three houses down, across the street. If you thought he should carry something in his store, you could tell him when he was raking his lawn.

When I read the Amazon news, I thought of R.T. Rybak, former Minneapolis mayor. His parents used to run a drugstore. He said he recalled the pleasant jumble of merchandise: Stores of his parents’ era “weren’t the cookie cutters you find today.” Then he said something I hadn’t considered, because I was locked into a thesis and hated to see it wrecked.

“Even today,” R.T. said, “there’s a through line from my parents’ store to a Walgreens in the middle of a pandemic. It’s still a place where people still have a community. They’re in a vulnerable position, getting personal advice on life and death from the pharmacist. There are places where you can send away for medicine, but my dad, as a pharmacist, was trained to give advice short of a doctor but more than the mail carrier.” Or, for that matter, the Amazon delivery guy.

Good point. Not all is lost. Thanks for the bargains, Amazon, and yay for competition. But on behalf of people who love their neighborhood businesses, can you hold off on providing everything for a while, at least until those of us who love our neighborhoods are dead and gone?

Hold on, e-mail alert: Amazon Prime is having a sale on headstones and urns.

Whoa. That’s a really good price.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks