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Big Chain Drug Stores Close Branches Across the East Bronx

Jonathan Custodio, The City

This article was originally published on Dec 16 5:00am EST by THE CITY

Big chain drugstores have shut down at least three locations in the East Bronx since February, including a Rite Aid and a Walgreens in Soundview and a Rite Aid in Westchester Square. 

In addition to fulfilling prescriptions and offering over the counter medications, these big-box stores furnished residents with household supplies, groceries and personal care items, serving as essential one-stop shopping locations.

In the process of gaining local market share, big boxes drove out some smaller competitors. Now, some of them are closing themselves. The upshot is that locals have to seek out mom-and-pop pharmacies, more distant chain locations or mail-order delivery services. 

“Hell yeah, I have” said Geraldine Frazier, when asked if she’d been affected by her local Walgreens’ closure. Frazier, who is in her 70s and has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. “I used to get my medication from there [and] now I’m having them sent to me by mail.” 

The closures are part of a citywide and national trend of big chain shutdowns. Rite Aid announced in March it would shut down 145 “unprofitable stores” nationally. Last year, CVS said it would close 900 stores over the next three years. In 2019, before the pandemic crippled the economy, Walgreens already planned to shutter 200 stores. And in 2017, Walgreens acquired 1,900 stores from rival Rite Aid, leading to the shuttering of some 600 stores nationwide.

The closed metal gates of the Rite Aid on the corner of Morrison and Westchester Avenues that closed in October are covered with graffiti, as are those of the Walgreens six blocks east on the corner of Morrison Avenue and Westchester Avenue that closed in November. 

“As we move forward on our strategy to expand Walgreens role as a leader in the delivery of healthcare, we are focused on creating the right network of stores in the right locations to best meet the needs of the communities we serve,” Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman emailed THE CITY. “We made the difficult decisions (sic) to close this store. There are a number of factors that we take into consideration including dynamics of the local market and changing buying habits of our customers.” 

Engerman did not elaborate on what those local market dynamics were or how customers’ buying habits were changing. Nor did he answer a question about how many Walgreens locations in the Bronx have closed in 2022, or how many were scheduled to close in 2023.

Juan, who immigrated from Mexico 15 years ago and said he did not feel comfortable giving his last name, told THE CITY that he has lived by the Rite Aid in Soundview the entire time and that the store’s proximity to his home was convenient. 

“Now that it’s closed, we have to find a pharmacy that’s farther or bigger stores like Target,” he said in Spanish after selling a customer a donut from his cart, noting he and his wife would buy both medicine and household items from the Soundview Rite Aid. When their children were younger, the late hours of the big-chain pharmacy were vital, he said, since “All the pharmacies in the neighborhood are closed by 7pm.”  

Asked about the Bronx stores, Rite Aid spokesperson Catherine Carter pointed to a 2021 company earnings call informing investors that closures were needed “to reduce costs, drive improved profitability and operate from a healthy foundation to grow our business while ensuring the needs of our customers and communities are being met.” Between August 28, 2021 and August 27, 2022, Rite Aid went from 2,501 total stores to 2,352, according to a quarterly financial report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That number is now at approximately 2,330, Carter said. 

“We review every neighborhood to ensure our customers will have access to health services, be it at Rite Aid or a nearby pharmacy, and we work to seamlessly transfer their prescriptions so there is no disruption of services. We also strive to transfer associates to other Rite Aid locations where possible,” Carter told THE CITY in an email. 

Carter did not address questions asking how many Rite Aid stores in the Bronx closed in 2022, or the number or status of the employees who’d worked at those locations.

The closest large drugstore, a CVS, is about half a mile from where the Soundview Rite Aid had been, long enough to be stressful for people with children or older Bronxites and had seen longer wait times for customers, several residents told THE CITY. 

“CVS is more remote, and in this cold” said Juan in Spanish, it’s a long walk for “people who have young ones.” He and his family now use the much closer, but smaller, Rite-Way Pharmacy, located just a block from the shuttered Walgreens. 

“That store cannot accommodate all these people that was going into Rite Aid or into Walgreens,” said Frazier. 

Sal Patel, Rite-Way’s owner, told THE CITY that he’s seen “a little more” traffic since Walgreens closed across Westchester Avenue.

“A little more. Not too huge difference,” said Patel, who opened his business 20 years ago. “We were surprised because they’ve been there for many years.”

“The rent and everything is so costly,” he continued, as about four people waited in line for prescriptions or to purchase personal care items. “We also have the same issue. Our rent is so high sometimes you just feel that you’re just working for the landlord and everybody else.”

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