WICKER PARK — A shop half a block away from a new Walgreens was forced to lay off a cashier just weeks after the behemoth opened on Milwaukee Avenue, the owner said.
Syed Wasif, 52, owner of Wicker Park Food Mart, gave the cashier his walking papers last week because sales are down about 30 percent since the drug giant opened on Nov. 21.
"I talk to my suppliers and they say, 'You buy one case, [Walgreens] buys 1,000,'" Wasif said. "Big giants are killing small stores."
It's not Wasif's first run-in with corporate competition — in 2006 he was forced to close Gold Coast Food Mart at 1159 N. State St. just six months after a CVS opened nearby, he said.
Wasif said he cannot compete with Walgreens' pricing.
A pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes, for instance, is $11 at the Wicker Park Food Mart, 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave., but only $10.05 at the new Walgreens, 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave.
At Food Mart, a 2-liter of soda is $2.29 but only $1.99 at Walgreens.
Wicker Park Food Mart, which opened in 1996, isn't the only local business to be affected by Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain with fiscal 2012 sales of $72 billion.
A 750ml bottle of Knob Creek bourbon is $31.99 at the new Walgreens and $36.99 at W. Grocer.
At W. Grocer, one block west of Walgreens, co-owner Gregory Stellatos acknowledged that he can't match the retailer's prices on certain items. "Buying in bulk gives [Walgreens] a competitive advantage," he said.
Within the next month, Stellatos said, W. Grocer will be dropping the "W" and undergoing a rebranding to "Go Grocer."
Plans were in the works for more than a year to rebrand the store and the timing with Walgreens opening is "ancillary," Stellatos said.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) was present at Walgreens' grand opening ceremony Tuesday, along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
When asked about the impact caused by Walgreens selling the same items at lower prices than local merchants, Waguespack said, "Every store has different products to offer and it all evens out."
"Aesthetically, Walgreens complements the neighborhood and it's a pedestrian zone meant for walk-in shoppers. It will help other businesses around it," he said.
Walgreens brought 80 new jobs to the area, store manager Lisa McMiller said.
By contrast, there are now only three jobs available at Food Mart and Wasif is five years into what could be a long 10-year lease.