A new 25,000-square-foot Walgreens between Chicago’s Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods is much more than your typical neighborhood pharmacy—featuring a sushi bar, fresh pastries and breads baked on site, a juice bar, and malted milkshakes. The design by Ted Theodore Jr. of Camburas & Theodore Architects is not only built to comply with the city’s latest energy codes, but it’s also one of the first Walgreens stores in Chicago testing LED in a large format store.
KSA Lighting provided ConTech Lighting’s one circuit track and Gimbal ring track fixtures with a spot optic to provide indirect lighting from drywall coffers built to tuck track into the ceiling. We talked with Michael Lehmann, vice president of marketing, product development, and design at ConTech regarding the recent project with Walgreens.
Interiors & Sources: Tell us about Walgreens and the project in general. What were you brought in to do?
Michael Lehmann: This is a new, iconic store for Walgreens. KSA—our representative in the Chicago area—did a lot of work in terms of the entire lighting package. KSA was looking to blend a couple things—general, task, and accent lighting—especially considering the goal of this store is different than any Walgreens around. Walgreens understands this is a changing marketplace, and they are making their stores evolve with the times and listening to their customers.
I&S: Besides the new customer features, how is this Walgreens store different?
ML: It’s much taller than a typical Walgreens. We had to address the height of the store, but the location and windows played a large influence as well. If you go to most Walgreens, all you have are a couple clear store windows. They aren’t really counting on daylight. With this new store, they wanted to make that connection to the city.
I&S: There was a special focus on the lighting selections with this project. How did you ultimately specify products that would work?
ML: Walgreens is doing a lot of different things—in terms of the store, branding, presence, and sustainability—and they want to make sure the lighting supported that. We ended up selecting recessive coves because they still give you the full flexibility of track lighting, but it reduces the amount of glare and reflective issues you have off of the large windows. For the decorative lighting, it’s rounded and complements the rounded counters. The integrated lighting within the display cases had to be a similar color temperature, and it had to complement all of the products in the display cases and the store fixtures themselves. At the end of the day, for Walgreens, it was all about performance, aesthetics, and value all wrapped into one.
I&S: Talk about the final outcome. What were some of your favorite features?
ML: The best feature for me—by far—was the connection with its location. When you walk into this Walgreens, it’s an impressive space—so different than any other Walgreens experience. In the past, it’s always been about how much product can you get in the right location and get it sold as quickly as possible. Now, the space itself is becoming part of the customer experience. You love the product—that’s great—but if you love the store, it’s even more comfortable for you to go there. If you don’t create that memorable experience—one you don’t get online—you’re going to potentially lose market share.
I&S: From your experience in sourcing lighting, how is Walgreens different than some other companies or organizations?
ML: Walgreens is different when it comes to how they work with their store fixture manufacturers. Some retailers buy lighting off the shelf, some have it custom made, some want it a particular size and figure it out. Walgreens is a company that cares about what is in their cases—not just their products but what they look like as well. I’m happy when I see companies like Walgreens pay attention to those details and do it right.
I&S: How does this project distinguish Walgreens in the marketplace?
ML: Walgreens has a lot of competition in the Midwest—CVS and Target, to name a few. They’re now reinventing themselves for the future. The biggest challenge they have is, as cool as all these things are, one of the reasons why you would go into a Walgreens is that you knew where you were going. If you start to change those footprints and customize them, you lose that familiarity. That’s a challenge for them, but the overall goal and scope of what they wanted to achieve outweighs that familiarity.