It has been about five years since I had my problems with Walgreens and its pharmacy in Cathedral City, Ca. I felt that was a serious matter—so serious that the California Board of Pharmacies got involved and Walgreens was fined. I’ve moved on since then and recently came up to Berkeley.
Wondering how long could hold a grudge, I decided I would patronize Walgreens once again.
Hearing about the Berkeley Bowl, a large food emporium, remindful of Zabar’s and Dean & DeLucca’s, I decided I would shop at both Walgreens and the Berkeley Bowl which are adjacent to each other separated by their parking lots. It is very confusing entering the parking lots trying to figure out whose is whose. The parking problem in Berkeley is about as bad as downtown New York City. After circling the block a couple of times trying to figure how to enter the parking lot, I entered Walgreens lot. Big signs blared: “WALGREENS SHOPPERS ONLY, $60 FINE IF YOU CROSS THE STREET.”
Stupidly (remember, I spent the last 15 years in Southern California and my brain has atrophied) I figured, “No problem, since I will shop the Berkeley Bowl and then Walgreens. Big mistake. I shopped at the Berkeley Bowl and with my brown shopping bag walked back to Walgreens, and spending an equal amount of time in Walgreens. I noticed that although the parking lot was three-quarters full, Walgreens’ store was nearly empty. Walking out of Walgreens to my car holding both the Berkeley Bowl shopping bag and the Walgreens shopping bag, my car had a boot on it and a warning sign, “Do Not Move This Vehicle” scotched taped to the side window and an attendant tapping her toes awaiting my arrival. “Sixty dollars, please, and I’ll remove the boot,” said Ana, who works for American Parking and Patrol, Inc. “What? I just came from shopping in Walgreens.” “But you crossed the street. If you entered Walgreens first and then crossed the street to the Berkeley Bowl, you would not be fined,” added Ana.
After protesting, Ana agreed to lower my fine to $40 dollars. I insisted on calling her supervisor whose toll-free 24 hour line had a machine answering it. No luck there.
I thought to myself, “Am I in the middle of a Monopoly game? Did I pick the “Chance” card that read, “Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200?”
Still feeling outraged, I marched back into Walgreens to speak to the manager, Ms. Fields. She reiterated that if only I walked into Walgreens first and then the Berkeley Bowl, I would have avoided being fined. But, she continued, she was willing to reduce my fine to $30 and have the boot removed from my car wheel if I paid that. She explained that the Berkeley Bowl wasn’t willing to do anything about the parking problem, so Walgreens had to take this drastic step because its patrons weren’t able to find parking. I again looked around the store and it was nearly empty. I guess most Berkeley Bowl patrons learned the rules of the game: Don’t cross the street, without going into Walgreens first. I told Ms. Fields that if this is an example of Walgreens’ great customer service, the cure they’ve chosen for their parking problem is worse than the disease and that I am one customer who shall not return. Ms. Fields then told me if that was the case and if I was intending not to return to Walgreens, she would not reduce my fine to $30 and it would remain $60. At that point I decided to pay the $30 fine and have the boot removed from my car.
As I drove away $30 poorer, I decided not to get angry but to get even. Then I decided, no, Walgreens has good sales, it’s been around a long time, and it used to have a good reputation. It is growing by 450 stores a year. If their corporate heads are not aware of what is happening at their stores, let’s get their attention. Let’s try to keep Walgreens customer friendly. The only way I know they will listen is when their profits are affected.
I sent an e-mail last month to Walgreens’ president, vice president and board of directors, as well as Berkeley’s city manager and councilmembers. Thus far, the only response I got was from a Walgreens secretary to a vice president saying if the e-mail I sent was spam mail, they are sorry I received the spam mail and that they were not responsible for spam and that I should contact my Internet provider.
Alyss Dorese is a Berkeley resident.