NEW YORK — With the opening of a 22,000-square-foot store in Chicago on Tuesday, at the busy corner of State and Randolph Streets, Walgreens is proving acquisitions can result in the fusion of the best of both merchants.

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Many retailers merely slap their logo on the stores purchased and re-merchandise following a cookie-cutter design.

Not so with Walgreens.

Putting ego aside, the nation’s largest drugstore chain by sales integrates the best of Duane Reade, the New York-based retailer it acquired in 2010, with what Walgreens has always done well, such as fragrance, photo and pharmacy. Greg Wasson, president and chief executive officer of Walgreen Co., said the store has “our most innovative, forward-thinking initiatives.”

With the acquisition of Duane Reade, Walgreens also absorbed talent, including Joe Magnacca, who is now the president of Walgreens’ daily living products and solutions. At the time of the deal, industry experts thought it was Walgreens’ attempt to fortify its position in Manhattan — but with the buy, Walgreens got much more.

The strategy of implementing nuances from Duane Reade is most apparent in the beauty department, where Walgreens has imported the Look Boutique into this new unit. The first Look Boutique appeared in a Midtown Duane Reade, ushering in a new realm of upscale drugstore beauty merchandising. One small difference in this Walgreens store is that the Look Boutique is accented with pink signage versus the blue featured in Duane Reade. Other than that, Walgreens’ Look Boutique has many of the elements of its New York sister, including an OPI-Essie Nail Salon, a Ramy eyebrow station, a fragrance-spritzing fixture where patrons can try scents before buying, a virtual-makeover kiosk and premium skin care.

“We just had the official grand opening, and from the view of the customer, the proof is in the pudding, with our first [beauty] transaction totaling $245,” said Shannon Curtin, divisional vice president, general merchandise manager, beauty, personal care and seasonal for Walgreens. “When people walk into this space, we see their mouths say, ‘Wow.’ ” Curtin was pleased to see lines for manicures, brow shaping and virtual makeovers.

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While Duane Reade’s flagship at 40 Wall Street is housed in a historic building with unique architecture, the location here is more modern and airy, with large windows. All of the fixtures are illuminated and highlight the upscale skin care, which includes Vichy and the exclusive Gosh brand. Instead of cardboard displays, all promotions are on metal étagères. Nail colors are highlighted in a special Colors of the Season display. Beauty advisers are available during most store hours.

At the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Walgreens’ shareholders got a private look at the Look Boutique concept with a mini department constructed at the meeting site at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Another Look Boutique will open in a Las Vegas Walgreens within the next few weeks.

The opening of the store — underneath the famed Chicago Theater sign — marks Walgreens’ return to the corner where it had a store from 1926 to 2005. Like several Duane Reade units recently unveiled in New York, this store has a sushi chef, a juice and yogurt bar and gourmet meals to go. New to the chain is an upscale wine department offering more than 700 wines.

Magnacca said, “As we transform from a traditional drugstore to a retail health and daily living destination, this store demonstrates how we are a central part of life for many who live and work in this dynamic and thriving community.”

Even Illinois governor Pat Quinn remarked how far drugstores have come. “The Walgreens of my childhood did not have a sushi bar,” he said.

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