Retail & Innovation

The Sanderson Sisters are back, and they're headed to Walgreens

What happens when the witches from Disney’s “Hocus Pocus 2” come to your store in search of a potion? A Walgreens store manager provides the inside scoop.
Steve Rausch, Walgreens Stories
Carleen Kenahan has been a Walgreens manager for nearly 30 years, and has managed store #19900 in Providence, Rhode Island for 10 of those. But as she looks back at all her experiences in retail pharmacy, nothing prepared her for having Disney film several scenes of the all-new “Hocus Pocus 2” in the place where she works.

As the haunting sequel to the Halloween classic, “Hocus Pocus 2” brings back the delightfully wicked Sanderson Sisters for more comedic mayhem nearly 30 years later—or about the same time Kenahan was starting her career. The production crew came to her store in November 2021 and made quite an impression on their Walgreens hosts.

“It was exciting. It was crazy. It was phenomenal,” says Kenahan. “It was the best experience that everyone at the store could ever have.”

How did a major Hollywood production end up at the Walgreens located at 135 Pitman St. in Providence? It was a process shrouded in secrecy, even to the manager of the store.

“In August of 2021 I noticed people who looked like construction workers coming into the store studying the lighting, looking at the fixtures, and walking all around the store, and heard buzz that something was happening, so I thought it was for a remodel of the store,” Kenahan recalls. “A couple weeks later my district manager calls and tells me ‘Disney’s selected your store to do a movie.’ I was blown away because that was the last thing I expected to hear.”

The movie’s director, Anne Fletcher, and her production team had scouted hundreds of locations throughout New England—the story is set in Salem, Massachusetts—to find the perfect backdrop to shoot several scenes set in a drug store as the sisters looked for a special potion. Kenahan’s store was noted for being especially clean and well-kept, having the best layout for filming, and ultimately being “enourrrrmous”, making it the lucky one selected for the interior shots. A Walgreens located at 333 Atwells Ave. in Providence was selected for the exterior shots of the store, including the front doors that magically parted—seemingly only for witches.

“When I met the location manager I asked if they’d just be shooting a few second scene that wouldn’t give any indication it’s in a Walgreens,” says Kenahan. “She looked at me and said, ‘We’re shooting four major scenes in your store, and you’ll definitely be able to tell it’s Walgreens when you watch the movie.’”

And how did store team members find out about their store being selected? “I was so excited I just blurted everything out to everybody,” Kenahan says with a laugh. “At that point everyone just went wild.”

Having a movie filmed in your store isn’t something that can be done in the Lotion + Bath aisle while customers shop alongside in hair care. No, the store had to be closed for the duration of filming—five days in total—although Kenahan knew her customers would still need access to pharmacists and their prescriptions, so the drive-thru pharmacy remained open.

After several months of intense daily preparation working with the production company, the store closed its doors on Nov. 16 and the physical work of transforming the location began. Shelves were moved, aisles were adjusted, lighting and cameras were brought in. Through it all, Kenahan and her team were tasked with making the store look picture-perfect.

“It was a huge responsibility,” she says. “The store had to be pristine every single day. Everything on the shelves had to be precise, we couldn’t have any open spaces, so I called other stores and my vendors to make sure we had enough product. We were primed and ready, and everyone on the team had a hand in making that happen.”

In keeping with the theme of the movie and the spookiness of the Sanderson Sisters, all in-store filming was done at night. And that meant well into the night, with shooting regularly wrapping around 4 a.m. Kenahan and some members of her crew were there for every minute of it, and after going home for a few hours of sleep, were back in the store again by 9 a.m. to be available for the setup of that day’s scenes. “It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating,” she says.

Once shooting began, and the film’s stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy were on set, the Walgreens team had to resist being starstruck.

“A few of our team members are Hocus Pocus-crazy,” says Kenahan. “But we needed to do our jobs and obviously let the stars do theirs without interrupting them. I mean, Bette Midler was in my store! It was hard not to approach her.”

As Winnie, Sarah and Mary searched aisle four for potions containing children’s souls (which Walgreens doesn’t sell, but the sisters did enjoy drinking anti-aging cream and eating a facial mask*), Kenahan and some of her team were behind the scenes watching it all unfold.

“In the scene where the sisters walk down the aisle, I think they did that take 30 times before they got it like they wanted it,” says Kenahan. “Sometimes the lighting wasn’t quite right, or the ladies broke up laughing because they were having such a good time.

“I definitely learned a lot about how a movie is made and gained a ton of respect for those who do this for a living,” Kenahan continues. “So much more goes into it behind the scenes that you never see with the finished product. What amazes me is how much work goes in to shooting a scene that may end up being just a minute of the movie. Between setting up the scenes and actually shooting it, it can take all day and night.”

The Walgreens #19900 team was thrilled to watch the movie’s premiere on Sept. 30 on Disney+ and see their store become a star. To Kenahan and her 11 team members, it was worth every second of time they spent making the place where they work look magical.

“I've been with Walgreens for 30 years and this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The team that was with me, we’re bonded by it forever.”

* Walgreens does not endorse drinking or eating beauty or skincare products of any kind.

Disney’s “Hocus Pocus 2” is currently streaming on Disney+. Disney+ subscription required. Must be 18+ to subscribe.

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