The pandemic was just beginning its second wave, with no end in sight, infection numbers were increasing and the unemployment rate was rising even faster. On top of it all, the nation was reeling from the brutal murder of George Floyd, caught on camera for the entire world to see. Demonstrations and protests swept the country in the days following his death, millions of voices forcing individuals, companies and governments to reckon with issues such as systemic racism and engage in discussion on meaningful police reform.
As large crowds formed in cities across the country, some crossed the line into property destruction, mostly targeting storefronts and businesses, which forced some to close. In low-income areas where grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential services are fewer and farther between, losing stores like these – even for just a few days – can be especially hard on a community.
In places like the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, many wondered how long it would take for stores to reopen, and some worried they wouldn’t reopen at all.
Up to 2,000 customers per day rely on Greene’s Walgreens – and for more than a typical pharmacy or retail store. Because it’s located in a food and services “desert,” it’s an essential spot for food, medicine, household goods and countless other items.
But it was forced to close in summer 2020 after suffering extensive damage. Windows had been smashed, computer systems destroyed and cash registers taken. None of the products that had been on the shelves were salvageable, and even worse, the pharmacy had been cleaned out, leaving many patients in the area without immediate access to their medications.
Store damage photos courtesy of LaTrice Greene.
“Our location has things people need that other stores in the area just don’t carry,” explains Greene. “Because of the products and services we provide, it was so important to our community that we get back up and running as soon as possible.”
And so they did – with a little help.
We never felt alone
As Greene and her team traveled to the store on the morning of June 2, she thought she knew what to expect. Between what team members had experienced in person and seen on TV, they very much expected the worst.
When team members arrived, they saw damage to the outside of the store, broken glass in the parking lot and remnants of products strewn everywhere – but they also saw members of the community, brooms in hand, ready to help out a store that had always been there for them.
“As it turns out, just as many of our team members couldn’t imagine life without this location, neither could our neighbors,” says Greene. “So there they were the next day, sweeping up the parking lot and picking up debris. We never felt alone.”
Greene quickly went from what she described as an overwhelming feeling of despair to one of inspiration as she saw neighbors of all ages and all walks of life pitching in with their own cleaning supplies and helping to direct other customers away from the cleanup site. Some community members even brough lunch and snacks to help keep morale up and stomachs full while the cleanup continued.
“I was amazed by the community,” says Greene. “At the end of each day, I had phone numbers from everyone who came by and helped, and they were texting me asking what needed to be done next. It completely filled my heart.”
A group effort
It wasn’t just Greene’s store in Chatham that sustained damage that first week of June. There were 11 stores in the district damaged to the point that operations had to pause for several days. One store, on the Far West Side, was burned down completely.
When the calls started coming in from his store managers, district manager Reggie Jones got straight to work, along with Latasha Guy, registered manager, local specialty and regional leader for Walgreens’ Health Equity Initiative.
"This was one location we knew we had to reopen quickly, but there were so many other stores in the area that needed help, too,” says Jones.
Jones took all of the team members from his district and split them up into two teams, sending them to damaged stores to get each location cleaned up, fixed up and operational as soon as possible. Over the course of 10 days, Jones’ roving teams had visited all 11 stores and helped get each location to the point where it could either open back up to the public or begin construction work.
“When we started the day, none of these team members had a home store,” Jones says. “They didn’t have a store to go to or work in, so they really had to come together to help every store get back to where it needed to be.”
And it truly was all hands on deck. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians worked side by side with front-end team members with brooms and dustpans. Everyone – including the members of the community who had come out to help – was working together.
Walgreens leaders visit the store as it reopens: Left to right: Senior director, specialty health solutions Alexandra Broadus, senior director of pharmacy operations Darem Dughri, Reggie Jones, pharmacy manager Stephen Fadowale, LaTrice Greene, senior director of business transformation Bonita Sen, Stephen Peterson and Scott Diveney.
In addition to repairing the physical damage at store locations, Jones and Guy coordinated with the team at a Walgreens specialty pharmacy in Glenview – a north Chicago suburb – to make sure prescriptions would be shipped out and made available to patients in areas with damaged stores. The team counted on the unwavering support of the area team, including director of pharmacy and retail operations Stephen Peterson, healthcare supervisor Patrick Allen and asset protection manager Larry Alders. Also lending support were members of the regional team: regional healthcare director Scott Diveney and regional vice president Jason Donica.
“I felt like the response we had, as team members and as a company, built trust with our local communities,” says Guy. “We sent a message that we weren’t going to leave them. We came in and forged an even stronger bond. They were all here for us, and we made it clear that we’re always going to be here for them, too.”
Thanks to their quick, coordinated work, Greene’s store was able to reopen after just a couple of weeks, continuing to provide essential services and life-saving medication to a grateful community.
“I think there was a real fear that we wouldn’t come back to Chatham, but we came back and we came back fast,” says Greene. “And when we opened those doors again, we saw smiles on our neighbors’ faces and relief in their eyes.”