Have you spotted one of the CVS vending machines in the Chambers Street or Union Square subway stations? The MTA is testing out a new tactic to offer convenience for transit-goers: vending machines. The first brand in a two-year pilot program is CVS, which has placed bright red, internally lit kiosks in unused open spaces in two subway stations. Each is powered by a 22″ touch screen. A barcode reader can even take those CVS coupons you’re always getting. Inside, you can find such on-the-go conveniences like couch medicine, pain relievers, toothpaste, tampons, and snacks (that CVS says are “better for you”) – even condoms. Most convenient for subway travel: ear plugs, portable phone chargers, Tide stick pen when your neighbor’s kombucha explodes on you, Antacids, and deodorant. You’ll find both CVS Pharmacy store brands as well as the ones you recognize: Pepto, Ricola, Dove, Gillette, etc.

The newsstand landscape has changed significantly underground, driven predominantly by a decline in demand for print newspapers and magazines and unhealthy options, such as cigarettes and candy. Leases and lease renewals for newsstands are down, so this two-year pilot program is part of a larger effort to modernize, innovate, and adapt to new retail trends. Turnstyle at Columbus Circle, for example, transformed an underutilized 200-foot corridor into a bustling food court. Another large-scale reimagining has just been announced for the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Terminal complex.

A traditional newsstand on 157th Street

The idea here is not to replace newsstands, the existing ones will still be in operation, but to offer a new option. Of the 326 retail spaces in the subway system, 40% are empty, and the MTA will be recapturing some of those spaces for new uses, including decommissioning them to open up additional space on platforms. MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber said in a statement:“As part of a broader push for innovation and in response to the changing needs of our customers, we’re reimagining what retail in the subway looks like — adding new options ranging from high-end vending machines to pop-up shops to larger scale retail concepts.”

The CVS kiosks are not new to New York City – they debuted at LaGuardia Airport in 2017 and have been seen in such places as Boston’s South Station Bus Terminal and on college and business campuses. On another transit system here in New York, the upscale shop within the NYC Ferry boats have been well-received. Still, hopefully some of the old-school subway newsstands will still stick around, perhaps adapting their offerings with the learnings about today’s consumer purchasing and habits.

Join us for an upcoming tour of the Secrets from Below: Underground Tour of the NYC Subway:

Underground Tour of the NYC Subway