As Protestors March Against CVS, Demanding Fresh Food for Boyle Heights, a Walgreens Opens Two Blocks Away

Walgreens opened on Friday, but had it's inauguration on Monday. A CVS is planned near the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Soto Street, only two blocks away from the Walgreens. Photo by Kris Fortin

Only a few days removed from protestors marching up Soto Street to demonstrate against a proposed CVS and shopping center development, people milled around a new Walgreens just two blocks from the protest.

Walgreens employees wearing “I <3 Boyle Heights” t-shirts greeted patrons on Monday for its opening inauguration, handing out vitamin samples, plastic cups, and tote bags promoting walking (the store’s first day of business was Friday). Community members are concerned that the Walgreens would drive out local businesses, specifically the mom and pop pharmacies that have served the community for more than 50 years. On Monday, residents looked at the store with curious eyes for what could be the cheapest buy.

Silvia Lopez, a middle aged woman from the Boyle Heights area, said that the store is close enough to walk to and can be useful for purchasing household items such as toothpaste and toilet paper. Alfredo Castellano, a 72-year-old resident that’s lived in Boyle Heights for more than 30 years, said that he currently traveled to a pharmacy on Atlantic Boulevard to get his medicine and refills. His frequency of refilling his prescription would make the Walgreens an ideal replacement.

Last year, when the Big Buy grocery market closed on Cesar Chavez Avenue and Breed Street, it was one of a handful of grocery markets in Boyle Heights. Community members organized by Corazon del Pueblo protested when news came that a Walgreens would replace the Big Buy.  Maryann Aguirre, a board member of Corazon del Pueblo, argued that there were already enough pharmacies on Cesar Chavez, and not enough accessibility to fresh food.

“It was taking out food access to the community who couldn’t drive to Food4Less, or take the bus (to a local market),” said Aguirre.

Rendering of Shopping Center and blueprint of proposed developments. Construction cannot begin until at least 2013. Image provided by East Los Angeles Community Corporation

The day before the Walgreens opened on Friday, East Los Angeles Community Corporation, a non-profit that organizes low-income communities on the Eastside, gathered its members and allies to protest against the proposed CVS and shopping center developments near the corner of Soto Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue.

After failed attempts at negotiating with JSM Capital, LLC, the developer that is in line to take over ownership of the land from Metro, ELACC hopes to influence the development by voicing their opposition to Metro directly.

ELACC’s protest led to the alley between the King Taco and the Metro-owned site, where organizers led a planning exercise with residents on what they want on the sites. Many of the residents expressed a need for a grocery store, and wanted areas that had recreational space, such as public benches and green space.

The current development proposed by JSM would construct a CVS with 96 parking stalls, a 10-15 affordable housing development, and a shopping center with select fast food restaurants. ELACC, in coordination with its planning efforts with its members, wants to see more affordable housing with more units and a grocery market at the Metro-owned sites, said Reina Fukuda Salinas, ELACC community organizer.

Coincidentally, like the opposition to Walgreens a year ago, ELACC apposes JSM’s current proposal arguing that neighborhood is in need of a grocery market instead.  ELACC also notes the proposal would increase single occupancy vehicle traffic, and doesn’t satisfy the need for more affordable housing.

While a Walgreens just opened, and talks about a CVS are ongoing, Aguirre laments how corporate entities are coming into Boyle Heights right when the neighborhood has been thriving.

Just like in Echo Park, where a Walgreens replaced a Pioneer market, the same cycle has been completed in Boyle Heights.

While the 72-year-old Castellano sees the benefits of the Walgreens, he said that it’s a shame that entrepreneurs who are from or understand the neighborhood don’t invest into the community, and outsiders are the ones that ultimately invest.

“They don’t have a vision to make prosperous businesses in East LA.”

ELACC organizing assistant Gloria Gutierrez helps a Boyle Heights resident with a planning exercise at the site of the proposed development. Photo by Kris Fortin