By  on October 23, 2009

Duane Reade is on a comeback tear.

The metro-New York drugstore chain’s yearlong effort to elevate its image — notorious for lackluster service and overstuffed aisles — is on display at its most ambitious store to date, slated to open today.

The 14,000-square-foot, two-story store — located in Herald Square at 1350 Broadway, across the street from Macy’s — showcases Duane Reade’s first stab at prestige beauty retailing.

As they glide up the escalator to the second floor, shoppers are greeted with an expansive 5,400-square-foot beauty department dubbed Look Boutique. The chain plans to open 30 more renovated or new stores next year, half of which will likely contain the Look Boutique, said Joe Magnacca, chief merchandising officer. A second store, featuring the beauty boutique, is slated to open by early December at Duane Reade’s current Rockefeller Center location, which is undergoing an expansion.

In the Herald Square store, just off the escalator is a circular-fragrance counter filled with department store scents, including Lacoste, Juicy Couture, Usher, Burberry, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers to name a few. Tester fragrance bottles are tethered to the display, which also serves as the check-out counter for the beauty department.

To the right of fragrance, Duane Reade has broadened its selection of derma skin care — Avene, La Roche-Posay and Lierac — by adding specialty brands including MD Skincare by Dr. Dennis Gross, 100% Pure, Rilastil and Borba. Bottles of Borba’s Skin Balance Water are available in a small refrigerated display case. The skin care assortment has been renamed LookRx Healthier Skin Center.

“We used to have skin wellness. Now we service all of beauty,” said Magnacca, explaining the name change from Skin Wellness Center. Magnacca joined Duane Reade from Shoppers Drug Mart, where he helped conceive of the stand-alone luxury beauty boutique Murale.

To the left of the fragrance counter are wall units showcasing new brands to Duane Reade’s beauty mix. They include Too Faced, Pür Minerals and Pop Beauty. Some brands, including Pop Beauty, Borba and Talika, also are found inside CVS Pharmacy’s upscale concept, Beauty 360. CVS has outfitted four stores with Beauty 360 to date and plans to end the year with about 30 units.

Along the perimeter of this Duane Reade store, which is lined with large windows, are 3-foot cosmetics stations featuring brands like Ramy, which will offer brow-shaping services by the makeup artist’s staff for $30. The other stations feature lesser-known lines — Tini Beauty, Global Goddess and Vera Moore — and each will include a makeover chair. The displays are designed to provide flexibility, should a major department store brand enter the mix, said Magnacca.

Buffering the prestige area from mass are a trio of lighted display tables: a rainbow of nail polish shades, the Demeter Fragrance Library, and beauty tools under the retailer’s private label brand, Look NY. The custom-made fixtures and displays throughout the department are unified with lavender signage.

“Beauty doesn’t fall off when you leave prestige,” said Magnacca. “We have not reverted to traditional drugstore shelving.”

The chain’s acting chief marketing officer, Joe Jackman, said, “We live in a trade-up, trade down world,” adding that beauty advisers will make suggestions across the entire assortment. During peak business hours, three to five beauty advisers will man the Look Boutique.

Above the mass cosmetics wall, a header includes a quote from Joan Crawford: “I have always known what I wanted and that was beauty…in every form.”

The store’s professional hair care aisle is lined with salon brands, including PureOlogy, Keratase, Bumble & bumble and a display of Moroccan Oil.

Its pharmacy, one of four locations to include a physician-manned health clinic, is clearly visible from the beauty aisles. To the left of the pharmacy counter is a waiting area with couches and chairs and a sign that reads, “Doctor on Premises.” The openness of beauty to pharmacy within the 9,000-square-foot space nods to the natural relationship between the two categories, said Frank Scorpiniti, senior vice president, pharmacy operations.

Acknowledging Duane Reade’s formidable neighbors — Macy’s and several Sephora stores are nearby — Magnacca said, “We ask, ‘What do they currently carry and what are the voids?’ Why not bring the product to where the people are, rather than bring the people to the product?” The Herald Square store also is a 24-hour location, offering an option when its competitors have closed their doors for the evening. “It’s a big step up for drugstore beauty,” Magnacca said.

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