My family has shopped at Walgreens for as long as I can remember and have always clipped the flier coupons. My parents still clip these coupons, while I prefer the digital versions. As I mentioned in my Michigan Avenue blog, I frequented the Walgreens at 757 N. Michigan and sometimes found coins on the floor to buy a trinket from the gumball machines. My mom only gave me exact bus fare to get downtown and my dad would drive me home. I didn’t have any change to even make a phone call, so I always looked for coins on the floor that people had dropped.
In the early 1980s, my first husband and I would shop at the Walgreens in Lincoln Square and for some reason the guy in the liquor department really liked us. He would give us free bottles of wine, which I think got him fired eventually. Speaking of booze, after being dry since the early 1990s, Walgreens decided to bring beer and wine back to some of its stores in 2010.
Founded in 1901 as a single store on the South Side of Chicago by Galesburg native Charles R. Walgreen, the drug store had four locations in the same vicinity by 1913. In 1929, 525 Walgreens stores were in operation, including locations in New York City, Florida, and other major markets. As of August 31, 2018, Walgreens operated about 9,560 drugstores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Iconic Soda Fountain & Malted
Like other drug stores, Walgreens stores had iconic soda fountains back in the day. In fact, Walgreens is famous for revolutionizing the malted milk fountain creation, thanks to Ivar “Pop” Coulson, who added Walgreens own vanilla ice cream to the mix in 1922. Charles and his wife Myrtle decided to offer hot food, thereby enabling their soda fountains to operate year round. All the menu items, such as chicken, tongue and egg salad sandwiches, bean and cream of tomato soup, and cakes and pies were made by Myrtle in their home kitchen.
Grills and Wag’s
Walgreens stores throughout the country were outfitted with versatile soda fountains serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unlike the beloved Woolworth soda fountain my mom and I would eat at on occasion, I cannot remember a single Walgreens location from my youth with a grill. I vaguely remember going once to a self-standing Wag’s restaurant in the early 1980s. Similar to Denny’s, Walgreens operated 24-hour Wag’s restaurants in the 1970s to 1980s. In 1988, they sold all 91 remaining Wag’s restaurants to the Marriott Corporation. Marriott couldn’t find a buyer, with the exception of 30 Chicagoland locations sold to the Lunan Corporation. Wag’s stayed in business in Chicago under that name for another two years before ceasing to exist.
Prices Then and Now
I was inspired to write this blog upon discovery of a few vintage Walgreens ads posted on Pinterest. This made me wonder how much prices have changed over the years and take a trip to my local Walgreens to find out. Somehow it didn’t seem right to look up these prices online. Of course, some of these brands and items no longer exist in the same exact formula. If this was the case, I matched items and counts as closely as possible. While most items were far less expensive back then, check out the 5-Band AC/DC radio on sale for $43.88 in April 1969 – that seems expensive, so I’m guessing it was considered a novelty item back then! I couldn’t do a fair comparison on restaurant menu items, unless I compared them to Denny’s or a similar restaurant, so I didn’t include them below. But you can see from the ad how incredibly inexpensive these foods were. For example, $1.69 for a T-bone steak, $1.29 for half a fried chicken, 99 cents for a complete turkey dinner, and 39 cents for a slice of hot apple pie! In April 1969, a carton of cigarettes cost $3.59!
January 1958 – May 2019
1958: Rubbing alcohol: 29 cents regular, 5 cents sale; 2019: $1.79 (16 oz.), $2.49 (32 oz.)
1958: Rubber gloves: 69 cents value, 33 cents; 2019: Latex gloves: $2.19-$4.49
1958: Sucrets: 35 cents regular, 27 cents sale; 2019: $5.99 (18 ct)
1958: Ben-Gay ointment: 67 cents; 2019: $6.49 (2 oz.), $9.79 (4 oz.)
1958: Colgate toothpaste: 29 cents regular, 2 for 33 cents; 2019: Colgate Basic Cavity Protection: $1.79 (4 oz.)
1958: Malted milk balls: 59 cents regular, 49 cents sale (1 lb.); 2019: Nice brand: $2.49 or 2/$4 (6.2 oz.)
1958: 5 Dr. West toothbrushes: 1.45 regular, 98 cents sale; 2019: Six-pack Walgreens brand toothbrushes: $4.99 regular, $3.99 sale
January 1969 – April 2019
1969: Polident: $1.49 regular, 93 cents sale (100 count); 2019: $4.29 (40 count)
1969: Kotex Napkins: 45 cents regular, 37 cents sale (12 count); 2019: $5.49 or 2/$8 (14 count)
1969: Envelopes: 49 cents regular, 25 cents sale (100 count); 2019: $1.49 small (50 count), #10 $1.79 (50 count)
1969: Society paper napkins: 27 cents (100 count); 2019: Smile brand: $1.99 (250 count)
1969: Bufferin: 93 cents (100 count): 2019: Not sold in stores, online price: $9.49 (130 count)
April 1969 – April 2019
1969: Coppertone: $1.55 regular, 99 cents sale (4 oz.); 2019: Coppertone Sport 15 $10.49 (5.5. oz.)
1969: Alka-Seltzer: 69 cents regular (25 count), 39 cents sale; 2019: $7.29 (32 count)
1969: Walgreens ice cream ½ gallon: 49 cents; 2019: Walgreens doesn’t manufacture ice cream anymore
1969: Vitalis hair tonic: 49 cents regular, 18 cents sale (2 oz.); 2019: $7.99 (7 fl. oz.)
1969: Metamucil: $2.59 (14 oz.): 2019: $17.99 (15 oz.)
December 1970 – April 2019
1970: Cepacol mouthwash: $1.49 value, 39 cents sale (20 fl. oz.); 2019: $5.99 (24 fl. oz.)
1970: Aqua Net Hair Spray: 88 cents regular, 29 cents sale; 2019: $2.99 (11 oz.)
1970: Ginger Ale, 7-Up, Root Beer 4 for 99 cents (28 fl. oz.); 2019: $1.99 each (20 oz.)
1970: Brach’s chocolates: $3.44 (3 pounds); 2019: Whitman’s Sampler: $19.99 (24 oz.)
For the last few years, Walgreeens has been under considerable pressure to stop selling tobacco products. They don’t sell cartons, but on a recent visit to Walgreens in northwest suburban Chicago, I noticed most single packs are now $10.43! I am passionately anti-smoking and actually allergic to cigarette smoke, so you can guess my opinion on this matter. In any case, if you have Walgreens tales you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!
Photo sources: Chuckman’s Collection, Pinterest (Bill Presley), Worthpoint