Tracey Richardson

It's the new kid on the block -- bright as a shiny new penny in the city's venerable downtown. Shoppers Drug Mart's new 14,000- square-foot store opened a month ago, smack in the heart of Owen Sound. It is a stone's throw from the city's defining characteristic -- the harbour -- and sits in the footprint of what was once the industrial soul of this hardworking blue-collar town.

It's a beautiful store -- bright, roomy, with products in an array of colours and shapes pleasing to the eye.

There are health-care products, cosmetics, digital cameras, groceries, greeting cards, books (chick lit, mostly), and, oh yeah, pharmaceuticals.

Until you get to the back of the store, you could almost forget it is a drug store. It's really a convenience store with high end products that make you feel indulged when you walk in and tempt you to open your wallet. Shoppers wants you to walk in with the intention of buying a carton of milk and walking out with a heck of a lot more.

Shoppers Drug Mart has made a killing lately out of the bigger-is-better, supersize-everything theory. And not only by offering the consumer more of everything, but by making it convenient -- staying open seven days a week until midnight and, most importantly, building in an accessible, highly visible area.

Shoppers Drug Mart has grown from 17 stores in 1962 to about 1,100 locations today, making it the largest drug store chain in Canada. Last year sales reached $8.5 billion. This year the company is expecting a growth rate of 10 to 12 per cent. The company has a licence to print money and knows it.

Building this profitable superstore downtown is a defining moment for Owen Sound, an in-your-face symbol of the future. A corporate giant not just in our back yard anymore, but right in our kitchen.

It's a benevolent giant if you ask owner-pharmacist Martin Keeping. He says he's not there to put anyone out of business, and he makes a good argument. He doesn't carry enough books or certainly enough niche books to compete directly with the independent booksellers downtown. Same with camera supplies.

He's there because he wants people downtown and on the west side to have a one-stop shopping destination without having to drive to the east hill.

One-stop destination is a buzz word in retail these days. And the theory works. People don't have time to bounce from store to store. Gas prices are and will be a factor too.

Keeping has made an investment in the downtown and he's not just tossing off a line. He's lived in Owen Sound since 1989 and grew up in Grey County. He's a pharmacist first and one who once dreamed of owning his own independent store. But of course those have gone the way of the dinosaur.

He smiles easily when he talks about the friendliness of his customers and he knows all about the history of drug stores downtown. For his store's grand opening, he invited previous owners of the old downtown Shoppers, formally Big V, to cut the ribbon. He has a photo in his office of the old IDA drugstore that used to sit on the same location. He says he's put a huge sum of money into the photographic murals of historic Owen Sound on the side of his building to give it character and make it distinctive to the city -- his own version of a portal to the past. He wants the new Shoppers to be a part of the community, not an interloper.

The city's Downtown Improvement Area is happy to have the new Shoppers and hopes it will lure people downtown and offer proof that the downtown is a happening place.

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London, Ontario