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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Cleanup In Aisle 9! Crews Rip Up Old Town Walgreens, Piling Mounds Of Dirt And Bricks In The Middle Of The Store

A viral tweet shows workers inside in a deep trench ... in the middle of an Old Town Walgreens, where people continued to shop.

Construction workers excavate the sunscreen aisle in the Old Town Walgreens to fix a sewer pipe that caused the floor to sink.
Courtesy Michelle Stenzel
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OLD TOWN — If you were buying sunscreen from the Old Town Walgreens, it was in stock Tuesday — but you might have had to climb over a giant pile of dirt and bricks, then avoid falling into a trench, to get it.

A construction crew tore through the convenience store’s floor Tuesday, pulling up brick pavers from a bygone era in the process to replace a failed sewer pipe. They discarded the debris between alcohol, sunscreen and pool floats as shoppers continued to peruse the store.

The work was captured in a now-viral tweet by Chicagoan Michelle Stenzel, showing workers shoulder-deep in the earth in the middle of the store.

Despite the store’s proximity to Second City, the photo wasn’t a joke.  

By 7:15 p.m., the workers were gone, but they left behind what resembled a small archeological dig, with boards covering the trench and dirt spilling into aisle eight.

Credit: Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago
Dirt and bricks are dug up inside Walgreens at 1601 N. Wells St. on June 8, 2021.

The remains were largely contained under plastic sheets. The dig spanned a stretch of summer fun, going from sunglasses near the checkout queue past sunscreen, pool floats and goggles, straddling a White Claw display and charcoal, and ending near reminders of the pandemic: masks and thermometers.

Employees told Block Club they weren’t entirely sure what necessitated the work. Stenzel posted that a cashier said the aisle began to sink. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward the store is in, said a sewer pipe needed to be replaced.

The city said Walgreens brought in a contractor to do the emergency repair while the store remained open.

“Upon notification this morning by Alderman Brian Hopkins, the Department of Buildings (DOB) completed an inspection and immediately ordered the store closed until DOB can inspect the sewer work to ensure it has been completed according to code, the floor has been completely rebuilt, and the proper permits have been obtained,” the Department of Buildings said in a statement.

The store fully reopened on Thursday after an overnight crew finished the work.

Hopkins said a clay pipe had collapsed, and a local store manager made the initial decision to remain open while the emergency repairs began. During the partial closure, the store set up a table and chair near the front entrance and was able to vaccinate at least 50 people who had prior appointments, he said. An associate who answered the phone at the store confirmed it was reopened on Thursday morning.

Credit: Justin Laurence/Block Club Chicago

Peter Fisher and his wife were in town from Wisconsin visiting their daughter, who lives nearby.

As Fisher’s wife searched for toiletries she forgot to pack, he stood near the dirt checking a baseball score and trying to figure out what lay before him.

Fisher surmised it must be safe, “otherwise they would have posted guards,” he said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Workers inside the Old Town Walgreens, replacing a sewer pipe.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Workers inside the Old Town Walgreens replacing a sewer pipe in the middle of an aisle as seen on June 9, 2021.

The building itself is already part of Chicago folklore. Designed by famed architect Stanley Tigerman, the store, 1601 N. Wells St., was part of the original Pipers Alley Mall complex and one of several convenience stores that sold deadly Tylenol in 1982 during the still-unsolved Tylenol murders.

As Stenzel’s tweet took off, commenters — including Walgreens’ corporate account — piled on with jokes and theories.

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