Starting April 6, Longs drugstores in Hawaii will require shoppers to have CVS “Extracare Pharmacy” cards in order to buy sale items.
I found out about this when I was checking out at Longs Kahala this week with of a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine and two packs of Valentine’s Day stickers.
The sales clerk urged me to sign up for a CVS card. I told her I wasn’t interested. She said I had better think about it “because after April 6 you will not get sale stuff without a card.”
This ticked me off. I was thinking this is not the old Longs. My Longs would never force anyone to do anything.
I told the saleslady “Fine. I am not shopping here any more,” which is untrue because Longs is the only drugstore in my immediate neighborhood.
CVS Caremark Corporation of Woonsocket, R.I., bought Longs six years ago. CVS is the second largest pharmacy chain in the country.
By urging all its shoppers to have customer cards, CVS is following the lead of its key competitor Walgreen, which allows only registered cardholders to buy sales specials.
“It’s not the old Longs anymore,” said a sales clerk whom I have talked to in the store for years. She asked me to keep her name out of my story for fear she might get in trouble with her boss. She says CVS is trying to standardize its practices here with CVS stores on the mainland. She says the company has been encouraging Hawaii employees to think of themselves as employees of CVS, not Longs. But she says that’s difficult for her because she worked for Longs for 22 years before it was CVS.
My sales clerk friend said the Longs brothers, Joseph and Thomas, had a deep affection for Hawaii, which started after they opened their first store in downtown Honolulu on Bishop Street on March 29, 1954.
I am predicting the next thing to happen will be that the mainland corporation will change the name of its Hawaii stores to CVS, the same name on its more 7,000 stores on the mainland. But that’s only speculation. My questions to CVS’s corporate office on the mainland remain unanswered.
My friend Pat Monroe, who shops at Longs in Ewa Beach, says “that will never happen. They will keep the Longs name. They know what that means in Hawaii.”
And the stores wouldn’t be the same with the slogan: “Make CVS a part of your day.”
My husband tells me he finds himself singing that Longs slogan over and over whenever he is having a hard time such as when he’s pitching a new tent on a mainland camping trip or taking a tent down for the first time. He says, “I don’t like the slogan. It is just there and it comes to me when I am having difficulties.”
CVS has owned Longs since 2008 when it paid $2.9 billion to Longs Drugs of Walnut Creek, California, for its 521 retail stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.
All the mainland Longs stores were renamed CVS, but the company kept the Longs name in Hawaii because of its high name recognition.
It is difficult to say when or why Longs became such an institution in Hawaii. Longs is, after all, only a drugstore chain and its ownership has always been on the mainland.
Writer Lee Cataluna helped boost the drug store’s image with her play “Folks You Meet in Longs,” produced by Kumu Kahua in 2003.
Cataluna said Longs was incredibly generous when Kumu Kahua approached the store’s management to ask for permission to use the store name.
“Longs couldn’t have been nicer,” Cataluna says. “They gave the theater the green Longs smocks to use as costumes, aisle signage from inside the store, even a cash register to use as a prop. They never asked for script approval. Their support was pure — they asked for nothing in return.”
Cataluna said the Longs workers came to see the play. “They stayed afterward to share their funny and sad and amazing stories with the cast. It was the best kind of collective creativity.”
“I am not sure that would happen now,” Cataluna says. “The stores feel different since the ownership change. It is hard to put my finger on it, but it doesn’t seem quite as warm and generous and spontaneous.”
Sheri Sakamoto, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, says there will always be people who miss the old Longs but she says retail practices are changing very quickly in Hawaii.
Sakamoto says many stores here, including Foodland and Safeway, also require store membership to get sale prices. She says retailers like the cards because they encourage customer loyalty. “The cards entice the customers to keep coming by offering them extra savings coupons and rewards.”
Sakamoto says the cards allow retailers to follow shopping trends and make it easier for them to order and re-stock customer favorites. By knowing their customers’ names and the store in which they are making their purchases retailers can find out if an advertised sale item is actually drawing customers into a particular location.
Longs is preparing customers for the change with clerks in bright red CVS T-shirts standing at tables to help customers fill out card applications. The forms ask for personal information, including a customer’s name and address and email address. A customer’s phone number, gender, language preference and birth date are optional. But the form encourages the inclusion of a birth date with the phrase “Provide your birth date to receive special savings and rewards.”
“There is no downside to this for customers,” says real estate and retail analyst, Stephany Sofos. “It’s just helping CVS pull people into the stores.”
Misty Perreira, a clerk at Longs Kahala, who was assisting customers with the card sign-up process, boasted to a shopper that she had already received an $11 rebate by using her CVS card. Customers using the card earn 2 percent back on their purchases, which goes to what are called “Extrabucks Rewards.” CVS calls the Extrabucks “Free CVS money” to be used on most items in the store.
Jean Bart of Waialae-Iki likes the CVS cards. Bart says, “You get quality rebates. Mine have amounted to $23 which is as good as cash for purchases. With the receipts, you also get a bunch of coupons for discounts on various things.”
I watched an elderly Japanese woman in line in front of me at Long’s use her new CVS card. I asked her if she liked it. She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s a lot of paperwork.”
More than that, it’s a lot of change. The change from what we locals have always perceived as our neighborhood drugstore into a huge mainland chain store.
Like Cataluna, I get nostalgic. But my friend Pat Monroe is more realistic. She says, “ Longs as we knew it has been gone for a long time.”