Indecision

Will CVS Rebuild Their Looted Store?

CVS was heralded for choosing to put a store in a struggling neighborhood. But did riots scare the corporation out of rebuilding?

05.01.15 12:55 AM ET

Its burning store riveted viewers as the cable news networks covered the destruction in Baltimore. But since its new outpost went up in flames, CVS corporate has been very quiet.

Analysts have described how critical the pharmacy was to a poor neighborhood with few services and no supermarket. Not since CVS made the socially-conscious decision to stop selling cigarettes in its stores has its name been invoked so many times on national television.

Police carry an injured officer from the streets near Mondawmin Mall on April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics.  Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Here was an opportunity for a major corporation to step up and do something positive as a good community citizen, maybe pledge to stay for the long haul.

The silence is baffling.

So I emailed their corporate office, and in response to my questions, Mike DeAngelis, CVS/pharmacy’s director of public relations, replied that many of the employees from their two Baltimore stores that are closed have been working in other nearby stores, “and we are ensuring (stet) that all of the affected employees who want to work in one of our other CVS/pharmacy stores in Baltimore will have a place.”

The chain has about 30 stores in Baltimore, and DeAngelis said in an email that “given the extraordinary circumstances, we are paying our Baltimore store employees for their regularly scheduled hours this week. We remain committed to serving our patients and customers in Baltimore and we are currently formulating our rebuilding plans in the city.”

 That last phrase struck me as a red flag, so I pressed for a more definitive response, asking if it meant CVS was not necessarily committed to rebuilding in the same place.

“As we are still formulating our rebuilding plans, we do not have any details to share at this time,” he said, which in a way says it all.

 The road back will be difficult in Baltimore, made all the harder if well-heeled corporate citizens like CVS make their decisions based on the bottom line.

Asked if the company has experienced this kind of vandalism elsewhere, DeAngelis said he was “not aware of a similar incident of this magnitude.” If history is prologue, it could be a long wait before that burned-out spot is replaced by another business establishment.

As the television coverage revealed, some parts of Baltimore are still scarred from the 1968 riots.

Hopefully, this time, CVS corporate will keep this structure from becoming another ruin.