Home Local Wicker Park Walgreens housed in former bank is set to close. Last chance for shoppers to visit the Vitamin Vault.

Wicker Park Walgreens housed in former bank is set to close. Last chance for shoppers to visit the Vitamin Vault.

by staff

A Wicker Park Walgreens housed in a historic former bank building on Milwaukee Avenue is set to close Jan. 31, ending a 10-year run that introduced “vitamin vault” into the Chicago social media lexicon.

Walgreens opened the flagship store in 2012 inside the century-old Noel State Bank, which was extensively renovated to accommodate everything from a pharmacy to a juice bar. But the center of attention was a vitamin vault inside the bank’s cast-iron safe, where original lockboxes were used to display a wide assortment of nutritional supplements.

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The unusual shopping aisle became a magnet for locals and tourists alike, who often posted selfies on social media to mark their vault visits.

Social media buzz was not enough, however, to keep the location at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave. open, especially with a number of nearby Walgreens stores to pick up the slack.

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“We have made the difficult decision to close this location,” Walgreens spokesman Marty Maloney said in an emailed statement Thursday. “There are a number of factors that we take into consideration including dynamics of the local market and changing buying habits of our customers.”

Prescriptions on file will automatically be transferred to a newly remodeled Walgreens store a couple of blocks away at 1372 N. Milwaukee Ave., the company said.

Opened in November 2012, the Walgreens-in-a-bank concept was a unique and ambitious undertaking for the Deerfield-based pharmacy giant. Renovating, preserving and repurposing the architecturally significant building turned the corner of happy and healthy into a neoclassical gem that also did eyebrow shaping.

Built in 1919 at the northwest corner of North and Damen avenues, the Noel State Bank Building is an ornate, triangular-shaped, three-story white terra cotta structure designed by Gardner C. Coughlen in the Classical Revival style. A 2007 report by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks called the building a “distinct visual feature” of the historic Milwaukee Avenue commercial district, which includes architecturally diverse banks, office buildings and entertainment venues built at the turn of the 20th century.

The commission noted the bank conveyed “an image of permanence and security,” but its history has been far more ephemeral. The original bank was undone by a run on its assets during the Great Depression and the building housed a number of successor financial institutions before closing for good under the banner of Midwest Bank and Trust, which was shut down by the Illinois Department of Financial Professional Regulation in 2010.

The Walgreens store in the former Noel State Bank Building in Wicker Park on Sept. 23, 2014.
Vintage products on display in the bank vault turned Vitamin Vault in 2014.

Walgreens spent two years working closely with the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks during the building’s restoration, focusing efforts on the coffered plaster ceiling, interior columns and other ornate features, according to the company’s 2012 news release.

When the building reopened in November 2012, Walgreens touted the new flagship’s “expanded and groundbreaking” features including an upscale cafe, fresh hand-rolled sushi, wine shop and an eyebrow bar for “expert shaping and grooming.”

Nothing captured the imagination more than the alliterative vitamin vault, where shoppers could forage for calcium supplements and krill oil in the same setting that bank patrons once retrieved diamonds and stashed cash.

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Customers will have one more month to shop for vitamins or snap a selfie inside the converted bank vault. After that, the vitamins will likely be in a nondescript aisle, on a shelf, somewhere in the back of the other 8,885 Walgreens stores in the U.S.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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