Opinion | Ode to Rite Aid


Knox Coulter | Staff Photographer

Rite Aid has two entrances — one on Forbes and one on Atwood.

By Maggie Koontz, Senior Staff Columnist

On my way to and from class, I’ve walked past the Rite Aid on Forbes Avenue more times than I can count. I’ve been at Pitt for almost four years now and it only took three of those years to discover that there are two separate entrances and two entirely different stores known as Rite Aid.

The Rite Aid with its entrance on Forbes is more like a drugstore, while the Rite Aid Express on Atwood Street is more like a 7-11. What a totally convenient — and not at all confusing — convenience store. Or is it stores? Anyway, it’s a two-for-one.

Going to pick up a couple of items should be pretty straightforward, and with Rite Aid, it totally is. Activities like dodging the scaffolding beams as I walk down the sidewalk and watching all those white plastic tarps, which flutter in the wind and are not at all about to fall on my head, are just business as usual in Oakland.

After flipping a coin to decide which Rite Aid store will have what I need, I open the door and am immediately ambushed by a whole aisle of seasonal stuff. Yay, Valentine’s Day. These items, like giant teddy bears and bulk chocolate, are obviously essential and more valuable than the space they take up. I take note to buy an expensive stuffed plush and some candy with money I definitely have as a college student.

Then I proceed to wander the aisles, looking for the few items I need. As I scan the shelves, the harsh lights of the uncovered fluorescents hurt my eyes. Rite Aid definitely has the best lighting — better than my apartment and some classrooms. It illuminates every aspect of your face, especially highlighting your zits and/or your failed attempts at covering them up.

At least I can see where I’m going. And so can the employees of Rite Aid, thanks to the high-tech screens in every aisle. Every breath you take, every move you make, Rite Aid is watching you. I feel so safe under the watchful gaze of Rite Aid.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find what I need among the broad selection that Rite Aid offers, but at least I know where the important items are. On the back wall, there are the essentials, such as red plastic cups, ping-pong balls and Pedialyte, all of which are vital for college parties. Rite Aid really knows how to cater to its target consumers.

Although I’m usually only there to pick up a soda and a snack for the late-night shift at The Pitt News, I often find myself losing inordinate amounts of time in the void known as the convenience store. Perhaps it has something to do with the background music.

While aimlessly roaming, classic rock plays overhead and I find myself humming along as the music transports my mind to a different decade — a time with better music, cooler clothes and amazing hair. My physical body says 2019, but my soul says 1980s. Rite Aid knows what I need.

I once had a terrible cold and went to Rite Aid to buy cold medicine. I stared at the shelves for ages, trying to pick out the best remedy. Eventually I chose the cheapest option, as college kids inevitably do. I left 40 minutes later, somehow. I am convinced that altering time must be one of the mystical powers of Rite Aid.

However, this time it only takes me a couple of minutes to grab a Dr. Pepper and a stick of Rolos — a perfectly balanced meal. Now I am ready to check out. I’ve just got to find the end of the line first. This can be difficult because it snakes down one aisle and and then splits off, at least once, into two lines, especially in the evenings when I have somewhere important to be.

The inordinate line length is because Rite Aid usually only has one cashier working at a time. I can count the times I have seen two cashiers on one hand. And that poor cashier always looks tired and a little bit dead inside, much like myself, while repeating the same question about Rite Aid’s wellness card over and over to each customer.

A few of the store’s prime customers — college students — stand in front of me in line. A girl in a cute dress purchases a single tin of Altoids while the guy behind her holds a Gatorade and one of those protein snack packs. The girl in front of me wears sweatpants and has a bottle of shampoo in her hand.

I finally make my way to the front of the line and approach the tiny counter that barely has enough room to hold my various purchases. I pile my wares of soda and candy on the small square of counter and the cashier asks me the same question she asked every customer before me and every customer after me.

“Do you have a wellness card?” she says flatly, like every other time.

I say no, like usual, then briefly contemplate if I should get one. The answer is always the same, but it never hurts to dream about those beautiful benefits that Rite Aid offers only to its most special and elite customers.

Is it too late to get a wellness card, even though I’m graduating at the end of the semester? Is it a problem that the only time I go to Rite Aid is when I am in Oakland? Maybe not, since I do stop here a lot. I shake those thoughts from my head when the cashier tells me my total in a monotonous voice.

I pay and then leave with minimal human contact, but even the two sentences the cashier said to me are a little too much for me to bear. I’ve heard CVS has self-checkout machines, so maybe I should go there instead and live the nice, people-free life that I desire.

But I am far too loyal to Rite Aid. This obviously has nothing to do with the fact that Rite Aid is close to my apartment while CVS is a couple of blocks out of my way. I guess Rite Aid really is the best convenience store — or at least it is for me.

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Maggie primarily writes creative nonfiction and about student life for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected].