Most afternoons, Shauntria Davis sits on this street corner in front of a CVS in West Baltimore, waiting for the bus so she can pick up her kids at daycare. Today is no different, though the drugstore behind her is still boarded up and covered with fresh graffiti. If it weren’t, she’d probably stop in and buy something.
“I use this CVS just about every day,” Davis says.
By the latest tally, more than 250 businesses were damaged during the riots in Baltimore last week, which broke out amid protests following the death of Freddie Gray. But this CVS drugstore, which was looted and then set on fire, became something of a symbol of the turmoil in the city — and now, maybe, of its renewal.
City officials have confirmed that the store on North and Pennsylvania avenues will reopen, along with four others damaged in the violence. The pharmacy chain says it has a “long history” of serving inner city neighborhoods.
The area surrounding Pennsylvania and North is known as a food desert, a poor neighborhood without easy access to a lot of fresh produce and healthy food. Davis says she and her neighbors not only fill prescriptions at CVS, but buy staples like food and diapers.
“The chain drugstore has almost become the general store these days,” says Jim Hertel, a food retail consultant with Willard Bishop.
Decades ago, many supermarkets moved out of the inner cities for the abundant real estate and parking of the suburbs. Hertel says pharmacy chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid saw an opportunity to fill the void. In recent years, many of the stores have expanded their grocery aisles and added fresh produce.
“They’ve got almost a free run, with little competition in those neighborhoods,” Hertel says.
Still, the city had to fight to bring in the CVS at Pennsylvania and North more than two decades ago. More recently, city developers scored a big victory when a Target moved in not far away. It was also damaged during the riots last week.
“It took us at least three, maybe five years, to convince Target that this was a good place,” says Jay Brodie, former president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, which promotes business investment in the city. It also took $15 million in tax breaks to help redevelop the area.
CVS didn’t get any incentives to rebuild its damaged stores, says Bill Cole, the current president of the Baltimore Development Corporation.
“Absolutely not,” Cole says, “And CVS hasn’t asked for anything either.”