Finding a bottle of aspirin, a toothbrush or the missing ingredient for a late-night casserole in downtown Annapolis is almost as hard as finding a parking space during a legislative session or boat show.
But a deal is close that would bring a CVS pharmacy to the first floor of the former Hopkins Furniture store at 123 Main St., which closed in September 2001.
"We're in talks ... and we hope to have them open by Christmas," said Jack Kelly, president of the Kelly Co. real estate group and a principal in KDBA LLC, which is leasing the space in the building.
It's a development that will be welcomed by many in downtown who lament the change of Main Street over the decades from a stretch of locally owned and local-serving stores to an area dominated by tourism-oriented T-shirt shops, bars and restaurants.
"If CVS is interested in coming into downtown, that's great," said Alderwoman Louise Hammond, who represents downtown. "One of the reasons people live downtown and in urban settings is so they can walk around the corner and pick up stuff they need."
"It's been ages"
It's been three years since the small Rite Aid drugstore on Annapolis' Main Street closed, but for nearby residents it feels like "it's been ages," said Norman Finkle.
Finkle, a 66-year-old downtown native and vice president of the residents association, remembers when there "were grocery stores all over the place downtown." But Rookie's, a small market that was last to go, closed about a decade ago, well after the demise of the A&P;, the Acme and others.
A small mini-mart remains near the top of Main Street, and some Market House merchants have attempted to help out by selling basics such as eggs, milk and toilet paper. But neither location has the capacity or hours to fill the gap left by Rite Aid or Rookie's, which were themselves small: The Rite Aid was 3,700 square feet.
The first floor of the Hopkins building is more than 9,000 square feet, Kelly said. That would make the CVS slightly smaller than most suburban CVS stores, which average about 10,500 square feet, according to a pharmacy spokesman.
The spokesman, Todd Andrews, said the chain does not comment on specific sites until a lease is signed. But CVS opened two stores on the outskirts of town in September and likes the area.
"For economic reasons, for demographic reasons, it is very attractive to us," Andrews said.
Giving residents a say
Mike Miron, the city's economic development director who met with CVS real estate brokers Friday, said he thinks a final deal is about a week away. He also said he expects the pharmacy to take into account the wishes of residents when it decides on the store's inventory.
"Unlike most CVS's that you drive to, this one will be very walkable and neighborhood-serving for the downtown residents," Miron said. "They plan to meet with the residents to ask them what other items that they would like to see at the store" in addition to the basics.
Lou Hyatt, a real estate broker working on the deal and longtime Annapolis resident, said that CVS has been interested in a location downtown for 10 years but that sufficiently large properties are seldom available.
The Hopkins site has about 27,000 square feet in its three stories, Hyatt said.
Kelly said that his group is talking to office tenants for the other two floors and already has gotten approval from the Historic Preservation Commission to restore the building to its original look - removing the tan brick veneer and replacing it with bigger windows and red brick.
Kelly said his group was approached first by Main Street regulars when looking for tenants for the first floor.
"We were approached several times by bars and restaurants, and we decided not to go that way," Kelly said. "We've tried to accommodate the residents of Annapolis."
But residents who are happy about the pharmacy say their hearts still hunger for more - a full-service grocery store.
The CVS "will certainly put a dent in what we're looking for," Hammond said. But, he added, "We want both."