Gessler Drug Co. to leave Normandie and open two new stores

It looks like Wal-Mart’s possible move to Normandie Center at Central and Woodlawn is forcing at least one longtime business to leave earlier than planned.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Hal Schwarz, president of Gessler Drug Co., who hopes to open two new stores after moving out of Normandie in August.

Schwarz was manager of Gessler when it moved to Normandie in 1965.

“It wasn’t that long ago,” he says. “I still see people I saw that first year.”

But a while back, he decided to go month-to-month on his lease instead of renewing it.

“To renew the lease, we would have had to pay more to be there, and the space seems too large for what we need,” he says.

Schwarz says he decided “it would be a good move if we could work out what I call a two-for-one.”

So he planned to open a smaller pharmacy in the area sometime in the next year along with a larger store in the east or north part of Wichita.

But then his landlord notified him that he has to be gone by Aug. 15.

No one with Normandie returned a call to comment. But in February, Have You Heard? reported that Wal-Mart is eyeing the center for one of its Neighborhood Market concepts.

“Wal-Mart is interested, but nothing is even close to being finalized,” Debbie McNeal of RP Realty Partners said at the time. “Wal-Mart takes forever. They literally take years.”

That’s what Schwarz was counting on. But it looks like the timetable may have moved up.

“It would have been nice if this had not transpired till next year, and we had time,” Schwarz says. But he adds, “They’re doing what they have a right to do.”

Schwarz doesn’t have a new lease signed, but he’s close to a deal for pharmacy space in the area.

“I feel like our customers have been so loyal for so long, we need to be able to accommodate them as well as possible,” Schwarz says.

Then, he’ll concentrate on getting another location east or north (he has another one already at Central and Tyler) that would be more like his Normandie store, with gifts, jewelry, candy and a Hallmark line.

Schwarz says he’s heard talk about Wal-Mart, but that’s all it is.

“Nobody’s told me anything,” he says. “It’s all speculation.”

But an employee of Whole Foods says that store is taking the Gessler space, and Wal-Mart will take its space along with the former Star Lumber space.

It sounds like other stores at Normandie may be affected as well, though nothing is set on when everything will happen.

“It’s been unbelievably chaotic,” the employee says.