While the heyday of the drug store soda fountain may have gone out with bobbie socks, one local drug store chain says selling mascara and vitamins is now more profitable than serving hamburgers and donuts.
Drug Fair is replacing most of its remaining food service operations to build more shelf space for an expanded line of health and beauty products. In a letter displayed at its l030 l5th St. store, which closed its food operations recently, Drug Fair told its customers that food operations there were a drain on earnings.
"I've been here l4 years," said Louise Adams, one of the three food service workers who poured her last cup of coffee for Drug Fair customers Friday. "I don't know what I'll be doing."
In the past three months, Drug Fair has closed fountains at its 4463 and 5536 Connecticut Avenue stores. Last year, ten other local Drug Fairs lost their food service operations. Counter employes have been shifted to other departments.
Drug Fair has been serving sandwiches in Washington for more than 50 years, but higher costs and stiff competition from fast food chains like McDonalds and Roy Rogers have pushed its fountain revenues in the red.
"Food operations don't fit into the strategic plan for Drug Fair," said Fran Ofcar of Sherwin-Williams Co. in Cleveland. "But every employe will be given the opportunity for a position in another store or department."
Sherwin-Williams bought Drug Fair last year in its acquisition of Gray Drug Co. Gray Drug bought Drug Fair for $55 million two years ago.
"Drug Fair was operating at about a break-even level when it was acquired--it was just too general a drug store," said Stephen J. Albert, an analyst who follows Sherwin-Williams for Kidder, Peabody. "Now Drug Fair is streamlining and specializing in certain merchandise lines."
"We're not saying we're closing every fountain; just those that aren't particularly profitable," said Ofkar.
A store-by-store review of Drug Fair's ten remaining food operations is under way. Drug Fair has about 50 stores in the metropolitan Washington area, and another l30 stores in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
"We've heard rumors we might be closing," said Mac Whitaker, counter manager at the 1348 F St. Drug Fair, which is usually crowded with many breakfast and lunch customers from the National Press Building. "There's really no reason to close us unless the entire store is going," he said. Store manager Robert Birch says he has not yet been notified of plans for the store or its food operations.
"We're looking at a number of leasing situations," said Gary Hansen, regional vice president for the chain, when asked if the chain was planning to open any new stores or close old ones in the Washington metropolitan area.