Walgreens refuses bicycle riders at outdoor service windows – UPDATED

“I thought it kind of strange that bikers can’t enjoy the same convenience as drivers.”
— Brenda H. on being refused service at Walgreens

People in Portland who shop at Walgreens stores on a bicycle are being refused service at outdoor service windows (also known as drive-thrus). Several people have contacted BikePortland over the years to report such incidents, and this morning we learned of another one.

Here’s what Houston Bolles posted to a local email list this morning:

I needed to pick up an RX last evening. The weather was so sweet, I decided to ride through the drive through at the 39th and Belmont Walgreen’s, instead of locking up my bike and going in. I was informed by a pharmacy clerk that Walgreen’s does not serve customers on bicycles at the drive through. I told him that this was unacceptable, and needed to change. He called his manager over, who explained that the issue is about insurance rates, and he could not help me at the drive up window for the same reason he’s not allowed to chase shoplifters once they are out the front door. I questioned his logic. He appeared confused. I explained that the drive through at his location went in over loud neighborhood protest, many people in the surrounding community use bicycles for transportation, and that his company needs to change the policy. I related the story of Burgerville’s change of heart and free milkshakes for cyclists. He said he would report my request to his manager. The drive through has been open a couple of months, I believe, and I am the first rider to try to use it.

Bolles encouraged other people to use the drive through with their bikes and even suggested including the store as a stop on a future Pedalpalooza ride.

After reading her story, I searched my inbox for other stories of people on bikes being refused service at one of the 10 Walgreens locations in Portland . I found several.

In December, 2012, reader Brenda H. got in touch with her story:

Any ideas about encouraging Walgreens to be bike friendly for their drive thru? I just tried to drop off a prescription and the manager, albeit nicely, told me that they don’t serve bikers through the drive thru because “it is not safe”. It is a well lit canopy – I thought it kind of strange that bikers can’t enjoy the same convenience as drivers (not having to lock up my bike, grab off all my bike lights, lug my commute bag full of clothes into the back of the store to the pharmacy).

And in August 2011, reader David A. shared his story:

This morning on my way to work I thought I’d swing by my local Walgreens Pharmacy at SE 82nd & Holgate to pick up a prescription. I thought I’d save some time like so many other users and use the convenient ride through window.

There was a button below the window with a note saying Do Not Push Button because a buzzer automatically sounds. After a minute or so of waiting I pushed the button and the clerk came to the window and told me that he was unable to wait on me because I was not in a motor vehicle. I said ‘you’re kidding’! He said No.

Steamed I went around to the entrance, parked my bike, and went inside. I forcefully, but politely, told the clerk I was ‘pissed’ about the inconvenience of having to come inside just because I was on my bike. When I got to the pharmacy window I asked why the policy. No, it wasn’t state law. It was company policy because someone somewhere might have been hit by a speeding motorist going through a drive-thru zone. Or so he thought. I told him I could use the Wells Fargo ride thru teller machine down the street, but I couldn’t use Walgreens ride thru window? Amazing.

This leads to all kinds of questions. Has anyone somewhere been hit while walking across their parking lots by a speeding motorist? Why not close all drive up windows and make all customers walk in for service at the pharmacy? It could be argued that Walgreens is in the health care business and drive up windows do not foster healthy life styles. The less we walk, or bike, the less healthy people are. Encouraging people to remain in their vehicles while the motor is running pollutes the air and promotes obesity. And Walgreens is in the health care business…

And finally, back in November 2009 my friend Kenji Sugahara shared this:

Tessa [his partner] was refused service at the drive through at a local Walgreen’s. She was told it was a “safety issue” and that it was “company policy” to ensure that she wasn’t “run over”. (This despite having many bright lights on her bike)

Given this pattern, it seems Walgreens is set in their policy. That’s unfortunate for them because they’re missing out on a large customer base that would prefer to use their outdoor service windows while upon a bicycle. As you might recall, local food chain Burgerville also used to not serve bike riders in their windows. But after that policy was made very public through the voice of a local writer and citizen activist, they reversed course and now embrace “bike-thru” customers. Even their CEO is singing cycling’s praises.

As for a solution at Walgreens, it might be much more difficult for them to change policy. Unlike Burgerville, Walgreens is a mega-company with thousands of locations throughout the U.S. Some people feel this could be solved via city or state ordinance that would require businesses to serve people on all types of vehicles at outdoor service windows.

I’ve called and email Walgreens corporate communications office to ask them about the policy. I’ll update this story when/if I hear back.

UPDATE, 2:49 pm, 5/9: From the testimony of several commenters below, it appears that some people on bikes have been served at Walgreens windows. This could be individual employees acting upon personal judgment, and/or it could be a sign that an actual policy preventing the company from serving bicycle riders doesn’t exist.

UPDATE, 12:00 pm 5/10:: I’ve heard back from Jim Graham from Walgreens corporate media relations office. He said, “I appreciate you letting us know about this matter. We are reviewing our policies in light of feedback we have heard from our bicycling customers.” Graham said he’d be in touch more about it next week.

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