Most of my life, I´ve been listening to all of my Canadian relatives tell me, “Everything´s better in the United States.” Well, yeah, maybe that´s the case from a purely capitalist standpoint – we Americans do love our shopping malls, department stores, et al, but from a quality of life perspective, that wouldn´t be my primary reason for picking up and moving from Canada to the United States. I´ve made the strenuous argument over the years that this is not the case (especially not at present), but my wacky but lovable family refuses to listen to me. Now, with US and Canadian currency practically at par, and a good many of the American chain stores open for business in the larger Canadian cities, there really isn´t much lacking as far as selection. But, if we´re talking drug store chains, I must defer to the Canadian chain, Shoppers Drug Mart. If you happen to be a mainstream fragrance and beauty addict, hands down, this is the place to go. Walgreens, CVS, Eckerd and the rest can´t hold a candle to the newly re-vamped Shoppers Drug Mart stores. Personally, I can disappear into one for hours and emerge significantly lighter in the wallet. It´s gotten to the point that I almost deliberately forget to bring certain toiletry items with me when I visit my Toronto relatives, just so I have an excuse to go to Shoppers. Oh; forgot my deodorant? I gotta go to Shoppers. Can´t walk around all stinky now, can I?
Years ago, Shoppers Drug Mart was just your basic run-of-the-mill drug store chain. There was absolutely nothing extraordinary about it; you went there for your prescriptions, shampoo and other toiletries and that was about it. About 4 years ago, I happened upon a newly-opened Shoppers location when I was genuinely in need of something – I can´t recall what anymore, so I wandered in and was promptly blown away by this new store. It was sectioned off into two areas: one, with high-end cosmetics and fragrances – Lancome, Dior, Chanel, Clarins and other department store-staple brands, displayed so that you can sniff, touch and test to your heart´s content. The other side had the usual array of drugstore makeup brands and fragrances, along with the coveted French skincare lines, Vichy, Avene and La Roche Posay, which used to be almost impossible to get in the US. The rest of the store wasn´t too shabby either: all the toiletry basics, a special section devoted just to vitamins and supplements, pharmacy, greeting cards, housewares, groceries, photo processing, post office…this place seemed to have it all. I must have had that deer-in-the-headlights look when I was approached by a sales associate in the high-end cosmetics section, because the first thing she asked me was if I was OK. I said I was fine, and asked, where did all this come from? She told me that this was one of their new concept stores, and at that time, was one of only two in the Toronto area. They were testing the layout and the merchandise to see whether or not Shoppers could be one of those “destination” type stores, where you could pick up everything from a container of milk to a bottle of Chanel No. 5. I guess their formula was successful since more of these stores have opened in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as existing locations undergoing renovations to update them.
Now, virtually every Shoppers location has morphed into one of these destination stores you can play in for hours if you so choose. Their list of brands has expanded to include BeneFit, Smashbox, L´Occitane, Boots No. 7 and other new lines that seem to pop up every time I go in there. Speaking of Boots, I can see where the inspiration for this type of store came from since I think Shoppers borrowed a lot of their layout from the Boots chain in the UK. I did happen to get lost in some of those stores when I visited London a few years ago.
What I can´t seem to figure out at this point is why this type of drugstore/beauty emporium/lifestyle store hasn´t migrated southward, tickling the fancy of any of the major drug store chains here in the US. Granted, we have become oversaturated with Sephoras in recent years, but Shoppers has a completely different vibe to it. I really enjoy the fact that I can shop for both high-end items and drugstore items in the same location, whereas Sephora stocks only high-end lines. Plus, the convenience of being able to buy laundry detergent, Tylenol and other such items completes the shopping experience in such a marvellous way. Where I live, Walgreens seems intent on taking over the world, and the CVS, Rite Aid and Eckerd stores are so dingy and neglected looking that I rarely patronize them. A few CVS locations have added a couple of the French skincare lines I mentioned earlier, but they´re displayed in the same nondescript manner they stock everything else. The new Shoppers stores are clean, well-lit and organized to a fault. There´s some marketing genius at work here; not that I really care about that sort of stuff, but whoever is responsible for implementing these changes gets high marks from me for vision. When I´m at home in New York, traversing the suburban retail landscape and all the American drugstore chains, I think – boy, I would really love to have a Shoppers here.
I would love for any Canadian readers to weigh in on their feelings about Shoppers. Here in Toronto, they´re pretty much the only game in town. I know of a few Rexall/PharmaPlus locations, but not many. My family thinks I´m a bit off my rocker for waxing rhapsodic about a drug store, so I´m in need of some validation!