Getting Modifications to Building and Site Plans

The National Trust for Historic Preservation continues to develop approaches and resources to help communities respond to chain drugstores. The list below describes potentially flexible points between community and chain to create a drugstore that is most compatible with a community's character.

Meeting with the Chain

In the absence of land-use regulations try to meet with a regional vice president or regional director for the chain. Be sure that the architect attends the meeting and include the developer if possible. Occasionally a developer may be willing to negotiate with the chains. Try to include political leaders at all levels and business association representatives in your delegation. Build Coalitions with state or regional chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Planning Association (APA).

Design Regulations

The best way to get a well-designed building is through regulated design approval. If pushed, the chains and/or developer will usually negotiate on the building materials. The chains tend to use materials such as synthetic stucco or concrete block in their standard models. They will switch to brick or clapboard if pressured. They often have alternate models ready to unveil if necessary. It's usually more effective if the request comes from town officials.


Changes to the design of the building can be more difficult to negotiate, but some towns have obtained windows rather than blank walls. The chains will prefer windows made of darkened glass, so that their product display racks can line the walls inside. Be aware of the type of glass proposed. They may agree to boxed-in windows. Some organizations have offered to be responsible for the displays and to provide archival photographs and other attractive elements. Occasionally the chains agree to the addition of some architectural detail.

Parking and Landscaping

It can be difficult to win concessions on parking lots and drive-through windows. The chains prefer wrap-around parking. Depending on local planning and zoning regulations, town boards can sometimes require that the drugstores build to the edge of the sidewalk with parking in the rear. Otherwise, try to negotiate for removal of at least one row of parking in front to bring the store closer to the street. In any case the chain should give you some sort of landscape buffer between the parking lot and the sidewalk, usually small shrubs. Ask for shade trees, when appropriate, to help soften the architecture.

Drive-Through Windows

Drive-through windows are a common feature in chains' designs. They may consent to other design and site plan modifications, if they can build a drive-through window. These are less obtrusive if built in the rear parking lots.


Chain drugstore signs tend to be overly large, made of plastic, and use very bright colors. This is best controlled by local sign ordinances, but try to negotiate nevertheless, as the typical signs are jarring. Be aware that the chains have demonstrated little flexibility on this point unless regulated.

Excerpted from Better Models for Chain Drugstores (Anne Stillman).