by Michael R. Allen
CVS’ announcement that it has abandoned its quest to demolish the mid-century modern AAA Building on Lindell Boulevard comes nearly one century after the first time St. Louis learned that an ambitious chain drug store from Indianapolis was looking for sites here. The August 1914 issue of The Pharmaceutical Era reported that Indianapolis-based Hook Drug Company was opening a store at 616 Washington Avenue and intended to become St. Louis’ first drug store chain. Hook Drug Company was a relatively new company, having been founded by pharmacist John A. Hook in 1900. Hook and partner Edward Roesch served a German-American neighborhood in Indianapolis in a corner shop, but had added another eleven stores in that city by 1912.
Yet Hook Drug never opened the Washington Avenue store or any others in St. Louis. For some reason, the chain backed away from entry into this market. Hook Drug Company would grow as a prominent chain in the Midwestern market, with stores branded as “Hook’s Drugs.” By 1985, Hook’s was purchased by Kroger, and entered into a series of sales until the chain went defunct after a 1994 purchase by Revco. In 1997, CVS purchased Revco, and converted many Hook’s stores into CVS outlets.
St. Louis had no want for drug stores. In 1914, at least 28 St. Louis drug stores had multiple locations. The first chain drug store, a Walgreen’s, would not open until 1926. Walgreens entered the market with force, opening stores at 500 DeBalievere, 6100 Easton, 515 Olive, 360 N. Skinker, 514 and 725 Washington and 5501 Pershing. Indianapolis-based CVS opened its first store in St. Louis in 2010.
Later, the building at 616 Washington was demolished for the St. Louis Centre, which opened in 1985 with a Walgreens store inside the shopping mall. That store closed in 2006. Today, St. Louis Centre has been reconstructed as a parking garage with ground-level retail named the MX. Rumors surfaced that CVS was looking at the MX building for a downtown store, but so far has not signed a lease.