Greater City Providence

All I know is somone wants to tear down buildings on Broadway and build a drive-thru CVS


Former home of Empire Beauty School at Broadway and Dean on Federal Hill

I don’t actually know a whole lot about this, so it is hard to have too many opinions about it.

What I do know, is someone (presumably the property owner(s)) wants to tear down the 3-story office building at the corner of Broadway and Dean Streets along with the one-story building along Broadway next to it (currently the home of Hall’s on Broadway vintage store).

Then, someone wants to replace those buildings with a new multi-story mixed-use building with a CVS with a drive-thru on the ground floor.

Some other things I know; the last time we were talking about urban buildings being demolished for a CVS with drive-thru, we got this monstrocity in Edgewood.

However, I also know, that this mixed-use building with a CVS was proposed* in Seattle not too long ago.

I have not seen any renderings for this proposed building, so I cannot say where on the spectrum of vile to ‘oh, that’s kind of nice’ this proposal lands. Generally, I’m obviously not in favor of razing buildings that seem to be in perfectly fine shape and interact well with the streetscape, as this building does. The one-story building where Hall’s is; I could hear an argument for razing that. An addition to the 3-story building where the Hall’s building is could work.

What I am absolutely sure of is this. If the City approves a drive-thru on Broadway… well, then we have no right calling ourselves a ‘city’ anymore.

[alert type=”info”]The WBNA is having a Project Review Meeting regarding this proposal on March 30th.

Project Review Meeting For Proposed CVS
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
5:30pm 7:00pm
UCAP – 75 Carpenter Street Providence, RI[/alert]

*I cannot confirm that the Seattle CVS was ever actually built, only that the site was cleared to make way for it.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Agreed Jef. But are we already at that stage? Businesses outraged by parking meters. Merchants who feel that they have to cater to customers who cannot walk to their stores. Individuals who would rather drive around for a free space rather that pay for parking or who think it’s a hassle to figure out how the new credit card or multi space meters work. To me, it’s all related, and emblematic of a mentality that is more village or suburban than the third largest city in New England or one of the most densely populated cities in the country. This drive through proposal, which I strongly oppose, is the culmination of these factors.

  • The only CVS I’m aware of *within Providence* that has a drive-thru is on Broad St, in South Providence. Not having a drive-thru is CVS’s normal for the City. Dropping that part of the proposal would likely placate the NIMBY crowd a good deal.
    Adding housing in Providence is hard because of high construction costs and burdensome regulations. Placing housing units on top of a high-revenue retailer makes it much easier for a developer to build market-rate housing. Redeveloping the big-box style CVS stores in Summit, Wayland, Thayer Street, Silver Lake and other locations could deliver well over 100 new housing units.

  • A tastefully designed CVS (with no drive thru), and housing above it on say 4-5 floors… is not terrible. I’d like to see more housing along the highway, and more of a “canyon” with tall buildings lining the highway and cutting it off from view from the neighborhoods and downtown. Honestly, if they came to the table with a plan for a much taller residential building, I may even support letting them have their drive-thru, but they’d probably prefer access to parking underneath the building to be a higher priority at that point. This feels like a plan that is going to evolve alot…

  • What I find frustrating is that you have a very nice building already on the site which seems very well suited to first floor retail with residential on the upper floors. the parking lot is nicely shielded from Broadway, and a decent size to boot. Nix the drive through and replace the Halls building with a tasteful addition and you would have a real nice little project. I hate this push that mass market retail demands new construction.

  • How can anyone even consider a drive-thru here though? I guess this is the first “ask” or something but it’s truly a terrible place for a drive-thru, given the congestion already on Dean and Broadway during peak hours and the amount of pedestrian traffic.

    Also, back when we had the whole discussion about the Pawtucket train station, there was a significant argument about service to the neighbrhood. Can a similar argument be made here? In other words, is there a good reason to want a CVS in this part of the neighborhood? I don’t live there so I’d be interested in that aspect.

    Other than that, I tend to agree with Liam as well, they could fit a decent sized store in the existing building with a little facelift. I just don’t know that they are interested in a small store model since their other projects all seem to get bigger and bigger.

  • The Walgreens on federal hill is mixed use and pretty. No drive thru but I think much more walkable. The current building is ugly, so let’s wait for renders?

  • They’re considering a drive through because the business model is one where most of the customers are assumed to be driving from a distance. That’s why the Providence businesses are so against meters. They feel that they cannot rely on local patrons to walk to their stores. So they feel they have to accommodate for people driving and make it as easy for them as possible. Unfortunately, this accommodation is at the expense of the built environment of Providence.

  • Oh I know why CVS would want it and I think your previous post was spot-on.

    What I don’t understand is why the city should even let it get out of the developer’s mouth, in this location. Obviously, again, it’s the first “ask” and the negotiation process is only starting.

    I’m also not quite sure how one designs the drive-thru such that it doesn’t interfere with the other uses of the building, which makes me worry a bit about how genuine they are about the mixed use.

  • Well, for CVS to get the message that a drive through is a non-starter, we need an administration to boldly announce a a late-20th century Portland Oregon style vision where development patterns are flipped 180 degrees and, from which, we do not deviate and compromise.

  • I used to live next door to this spot, and I can’t imagine how a drive-through would be anything but a disaster.

  • There have been a few attempts to put a drivethru on Broadway before. Two times I can think of–once was Engle Tire turned into a Dunkin Donuts with a drivethrough. The other was a CVS on the corner of Broadway and Vinton. I think the Dunkin Donuts was a big enough project to trigger CPC, the CVS at Broadway and Vinton was JUST under the square footage requirement (for obvious reasons.) In the end they were not able to get the drivethru at Engle tire, nor a zoning change for Vinton and Broadway. But it took a lot of neighborhood outcry and long long nights at zoning etc. I can’t help but think that all the energy fighting these terribly plans is such a waste–just think of how great Providence would be if all that community effort was put into being FOR things–supporting things, instead of always being against them–and that responsibility to create an environment where no developer in their right mind would show up asking for a drive through sits squarely on the administration.

    There is a CVS with a drive thru on Manton Avenue (pretty sure they tore down Fruit Hill Ave School for that one) and the Old Brooks now Rite Aid (?) is a drive thru on Pitman. The Walgreens on North Main Street (trying to remember what they tore down for that) is also a Drive Thru. If I remember correctly CVS didn’t even want to put a pharmacy into the Broad Street store, because it “was such a bad neighborhood.” Didn’t CVS close their downtown store and relocate it to the Mall? Did they ever put a pharmacy into it?

    If the camel’s nose gets under the tent on Broadway, I think we can pretty easily kiss that entire R/P zoning goodbye and quickly every single corner will be eroded by big building massing and entire blocks of housing will be razed for parking between Broadway and Atwells.

    That Walgreens on Atwells was an incredibly hard fought battle, to make it as “nice” as it is. Epic battle. They didn’t just show up with that design.

  • Walgreens on North Main was Sears Auto Center. No great loss itself, but something better could have gone in its place. At least we can still be hopeful about the weed-strewn lot that was Ethan Allen across the street…

    The Kennedy Plaza CVS is still open and never had a pharmacy. The one in the mall was hugely touted as the first downtown pharmacy in a million years when it opened.

  • I don’t think any neighborhood should settle for a drive through Pharmacy, even less urban neighborhoods.

  • I agree with your sentiments Mark. However, in my opinion, the incorporation of drive-thrus is a symptom of a business model embraced by Providence merchants whereby there is a concerted effort to attract the patronage of individuals that live outside the immediate local area. The sentiment is that the majority of customers do not live within walking distance and, thus, creates the need to accomodate their mode of transport (ie, cars). Until the city (residents, businesses, goverment) adopt a built environment and philosophy to attract more pedestrian customers, the threat of these types of developments will continue to exist.

  • Here are a few more pieces to your puzzle.

    1. The three story building is occupied on the 2nd and 3rd floor. Only the ground floor is vacant.
    2. There are two occupied houses along dean street that will be torn down.
    3. The woman who runs hall’s is telling everyone that her landlord is kicking her out, when in fact her landlord is her partner of 25 plus years.
    4. The CVS will occupy 13,000 plus square feet on the ground level.
    5. There will be two stories of 24 high end rentals above.

    Need me to go on??????

    None of this is needed in my, this neighborhood.

  • I wonder when people think that community input assumes NIMBY. I am very grateful that we have an intelligent and thoughtful neighborhood who try to maintain a safe, walkable and affordable community. As Mothra mentioned above, it was quite a success and lots of work to get a Wallgreens that was a bomb in the middle of a neighborhood like we see all over the country. And many don’t seem to understand the danger of drive throughs in pedestrian neighborhoods where kids and adults are walking through that area.
    I also think that housing is a value as long as there are not more 18th 19th and early 20th century housing is torn down for parking lots STILL after all these years just so Camille’s and other slum lords can load these unkempt and illegal lots with cars.

  • I’m a little late to the game on this one, so please excuse any overlap. Is there a proposal for reuse of the existing building or is this a demo-and-build only propsal?

    There are plenty of examples nation-wide, most mid-to-large cities come to mind, where CVS (ie. pharmacies) are located on the ground level of an urban building with housing on the upper levels. Jef points out the project in Seattle.

    It being Providence, however, I can [unfortunately] see a drive-thru happening and vast surface parking added to this proposal. Our planners and developers are still on this suburbanization kick, even after the historic comprehensive plan was passed.

    Having lived on the West Side for a number of years, this neighborhood, like many in Providence, lacks in urban amenities, and to be a stable, thriving urban-focussed city every neighborhood should have basics like a pharmacy and grocery – that can be walked to or easily accessible by bike or public transit.

    Sorry to the Walgreeners, but Walgreens on Atwells does not count for those of us who live south of Atwells or anywhere else on the west and south sides of the city. As the West Broadway area becomes more popular, and populated, it has truly become a distinct series of neighborhoods and communities outside of the Atwells corridor and each deserves access to similar amenities like having a neighborhood pharmacy. [end rant part of comment]

    However, any plan to tear down an existing building and build anew with a drive-thru and potential parking is neither urban or community centric. I just hope that any opposition is focussed on preventing further suburbanization of our city’s neighborhoods and does not thwart our efforts to maintain and cultivate a true urban identity and experience for our residents and its guests.

    Pharmacy = Yes. Drive-thru = No.

  • So let me get this straight. The Walgreens on Atwells that is closer to the residential areas south of Atwells than a CVS at the corner of Dean and Broadway doesn’t count for people who live south of Atwells because it’s a “distinct neighborhood?”

    Going by your argument about the West Broadway neighborhood becoming distinct apart from Atwells (even though a part of the western portion of Broadway is closer to the Walgreens on Atwells than it is to this location), the pharmacy would be better suited on Westminster. The proposed location is only about 6-8 blocks from Walgreens and situated pretty far from most of the residential areas you’re talking about. I can see an argument for putting it at the other end of Broadway by Tobey St if you’re insistent upon Broadway, but to meet the needs of those you’re talking about, it would best be on Westminster somewhere between Tobey and Courtland.

  • Yes, Jim. There are no pharmacies south of Atwells (Atwells runs East-West).

    The only “argument” that I’m making is that we should expect more density of urban amenities within our neighborhoods if we are to consider ourself a livable, walkable, accessible city greater than we already are.

    There was once a pharmacy on Broadway at Vinton and I’m sure there were some on Westminster back in the day. However, as the area grows, one pharmacy for the whole of Federal Hill, and zero pharmacies in downtown just across the highway from the proposed CVS (other than the mall), is not acceptable, nor are our lack of groceries in the area.

    Yes, Atwells is “distinct” from Broadway as is Westminster, Cranston and Broad Streets are all very distinct areas of Federal Hill with populations who might not be able to make the 8 plus blocks to congested Atwells.

    As an urban dweller its about accessibility, convenience and having choices. Broadway is nice, its got a lot of historical character, but its no Sturbridge Village. I’d be more than trilled to have a CVS in this location so long as the current building is being reused or new construction that enhances the area more than the existing one does.

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