Forget the Deposit Box and Give Me the Vitamin B

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With at least two failed banks in its past, a historic Chicago building has started a new chapter as a drugstore — a fancy drugstore.

Earlier this month Walgreens opened a flagship store at the intersection of Damen, Milwaukee and North Milwaukee avenues in the heart of the trendy Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. The three-level shop has a sushi counter, a self-service frozen yogurt station and even an eyebrow-waxing station.

While hoity-toity drugstores are a fairly new concept, there are several repurposed bank branches around Chicago, one of the most overbanked markets. Walgreens, however, creatively embraced the space's past, turning the original bank vault into a "Vitamin Vault" where vitamins and supplements are sold and vintage pill bottles are displayed in the old lockboxes.

The company spent two years working with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on the restoration of the terra cotta building, which was built in 1919, it said in a press release.

"Extensive restoration took place on the building's coffered plaster ceiling, which features abundant non-symmetrical hexagons that frame griffins and other ornate designs, all of which form into successive yet subtle Star of David patterns," according to a painstaking description in the release.

The building was originally home to Noel State Bank, which failed in 1931 after a bank run. In 2008, Midwest Bank and Trust sold the building and two adjacent parking lots for $18.4 million. Later that year, Midwest's capital was nearly wiped out by writedowns on investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; it failed in 2010.

In an email, Dennis Motyka, the former director of retail for Midwest, said the company had planned to renovate the building, but moved to sell it because of the downturn. It opened a smaller branch that is now operated by FirstMerit Bank a few blocks away.

"The beauty of this old bank building brings to mind what a bank used to look like back in middle of the 20th century — monolithic structure, 2-3 stories tall, big teller lines, private offices, and spacious lobbies," Motyka said. "Looking at the makeover that Walgreens has accomplished brings a smile to my face, recognizing that this magnificent old structure now looks ultra-modern, both inside and out. Turning a traditional bank building into a non-traditional Walgreens store seems ironic, yet innovative."

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