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Big Chain Drugstores Close Branches Across the East Bronx

At least three big-box pharmacy locations have shuttered since February, forcing residents to travel longer distances to wait in longer lines.

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A Walgreens on Morrison Avenue in Soundview shut down in November. It’s one of two large chain pharmacies in the neighborhood to close in recent months.

Jonathan Custodio/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 filling 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 customers, big-box stores drove out some smaller competitors. Now, some of the big stores are themselves closing. The upshot is that residents 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 was affected by closure of her local Walgreens. Frazier is in her 70s and has lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. “I used to get my medication from there — now I’m having them sent to me by mail,” she said. 

The closures are part of a citywide and national trend of chain store 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 Elder and Westchester Avenues that closed in October are covered with graffiti. So are the gates of the Walgreens six blocks east on Westchester Avenue, at Morrison Avenue, which 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. “There are a number of factors that we take into consideration including dynamics of the local market and changing buying habits of our customers.” 

Closure of the Walgreens in Soundview is part of a national trend of chain pharmacies closing.

Jonathan Custodio/THE CITY

Engerman did not elaborate on what those local market dynamics were or how customers’ buying habits are changing. Nor did he answer questions 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 always lived by the Rite Aid in Soundview, and 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,” Juan said in Spanish after selling a customer a donut from his food cart. 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 chain pharmacy were vital, he said: “All the pharmacies in the neighborhood are closed by 7 p.m.”  

Asked about stores in The Bronx, 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.”

In the year between Aug. 2021 and Aug. 2022, Rite Aid dropped from 2,501 total stores nationwide 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. That’s long enough to be stressful for older people or those with children, and the store has seen longer wait times for customers, several residents told THE CITY. 

“CVS is more remote, and in this cold,” Juan said 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 a block from the shuttered Walgreens. 

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

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, while several people waited in line for prescriptions or to make purchases. “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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