Nearly a decade ago, downtown workers, residents and business leaders successfully lobbied CVS Corp. to keep it from closing its pharmacy at 921 Main St.
Now the pharmacy — the only full-service drugstore and convenience mart in the downtown loop — is fighting to stay.
The Main Street property has been home to a drugstore since about 1950. Under the Osco banner, it added more groceries to serve the needs of downtown workers and a growing residential population.
In 2006, CVS acquired Osco, and that’s when it proposed merging the downtown location with one on Independence Avenue. After the public outcry prompted CVS to change plans, the company said it poured nearly $2 million into upgrading and remodeling the store in 2007.
However, in early June, the pharmacy, doing business as Missouri CVS Pharmacy, filed a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court against Commerce Tower Group, the landlord. CVS said it needs an injunction to prevent Commerce Tower Group from terminating its lease agreement without proper cause.
CVS “is proud to be the only pharmacy serving the downtown community and it is committed to continue providing that service,” the drugstore chain said in a statement. “However, (Commerce Tower Group), in an attempt to redevelop the property in violation of the lease agreement, has notified CVS that it is in default of the lease based on disputed allegations that it failed to properly maintain the premises.”
The pharmacy said it investigated the allegations and determined that they were “either the result of ordinary wear and tear in a 50-year-old building or involved common elements serving other parts of the property that are the landlord’s responsibility and not the tenant’s or were altogether nonexistent.”
The company said that after notifying Commerce Tower Group of these findings, CVS received a lease termination notice.
A hearing on the lawsuit was to be held in Jackson County Circuit Court on Monday but was postponed until July 31.
Michael Knight, a partner in Commerce Tower Group, said the CVS property “is in horrible condition and they are in default of their lease. Their lease is terminated and that’s it. They seem to think it’s still 1995 and aren’t plugged into what’s happening downtown. They’ve got plumbing dating to 1941. They’ve got asbestos. That can’t be abated with people in it.”
Knight said he wants to build CVS a new space, fix the sidewalks, put in new lighting, take the shrink wrap off the windows and make it look inviting like Cosentino’s Market Downtown.
“We need to fix the space and improve it, and we need a willing partner to do it,” Knight said. “There will be a pharmacy in that space going forward, whether it’s CVS or somebody else. It’s too important to the neighborhood.”
Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development with the Downtown Council, said his organization is trying to mediate the situation. CVS has been a valued retailer, he said.
In its statement, CVS said it “is supportive of efforts to redevelop downtown and believes its pharmacy should be part of the redevelopment, not closed by it.”
Knight said he has offered to give CVS temporary space in Commerce Tower, in the old bank lobby, for the pharmacy during any remodeling.
“But we get no responses,” he said.
Commerce Tower Group is also seeking to renovate the neighboring 1964-era Commerce Tower into a multi-use complex. The proposed apartment, school and parking garage conversion of the 31-story office tower is scheduled to be done by the end of 2017, assuming financing details are ironed out.