West Virginians are seeing the effects of Walgreens’ purchase of nearly 2,000 Rite Aid stores in 2017, with several Rite Aids in the state closing their doors or changing to Walgreens.
In 2017, Walgreens acquired 1,932 stores from Rite Aid, including all the Rite Aids in West Virginia, in a $4.4 billion deal.
“Rite Aid still exists; they’re still a brand. We did not acquire Rite Aid,” said Phil Caruso, manager of media relations at Walgreens. “We bought 103 Rite Aid stores in West Virginia, so all of those stores transitioned to Walgreens.”
Caruso said all stores in the state became Walgreens-owned Rite Aid pharmacies.
“What we were doing at the time, we announced, [was] that we would be closing some of those stores to best meet the needs of our customers as well as converting some of those stores into the Walgreens brand, and that process has been playing out really since we cut everything over,” he said.
The transition was projected to take around 18 months to three years. Caruso said the process is ongoing. “It’s not going to happen in one day,” he said.
So far, 19 Rite Aid stores have closed in West Virginia, and 16 are becoming Walgreens.
The sale included a shift in Walgreens’ insurance network regarding prescriptions, meaning some plans accepted at Rite Aid could possibly not be accepted at Walgreens or copay amounts could change. According to a section of Walgreens’ website addressing Rite Aid customers, the pharmacy “accepts most insurance plans.”
For those stores involved in a transition to the Walgreens brand, physical upgrades and enhancements, including new interior and exterior designs and signage, have to happen before the store can open as a Walgreens, according to Caruso.
“Once conversion is complete, these locations will be fully branded Walgreens stores with Walgreens’ trusted owned-brand products, such as Nice! And No7, pharmacy and health care services, a broader selection of national brand products, FedEx shipping and pickup services and ‘Balance Rewards,’ our customer loyalty program,” he said.
Caruso said that most of the stores that have actually closed have moved to a nearby pharmacy.
“We have closed 19 stores in the state of West Virginia, all of those with the exception of two were transitioned to a Walgreens store,” he said. “Two stores wound up going to a Kroger. We realized that it didn’t make sense to transfer to a Walgreens [since] it was too far of a distance, but a majority of the stores have transferred to a Walgreens, and that’s where that process is.”
According to Caruso, all of the employees at the Rite Aid stores that were acquired became Walgreens employees, and if stores closed, “the majority of the employees were able to find positions in other area jobs.”
Rite Aid workers in West Virginia are represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Local union officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Rick Marshall, a regional director for the union, told the Gazette-Mail in November 2017 that “Rite Aid was going to close a lot of stores without this [deal].”
“This bottom line is, this may have saved jobs,” he said then.
In the beginning, Walgreens said it was looking to close 600 of the 1,932 stores it acquired from Rite Aid; however, in early April, that number was increased to 750.
“We didn’t add 750. We just added some stores to that process, and we announced it in an earnings call,” Caruso said.
Typically, the Rite Aid stores that were more likely to close were ones in close proximity with a Walgreens, such as a Rite Aid on Washington Street West in Charleston, which closed recently. It was less than half a mile from a Walgreens at the bottom of Edgewood Drive.
As for the 19 stores that have closed and 16 that are transferring to the Walgreens brand, the exact locations are unknown at this point as Walgreens did not provide the information.
After the rise in the number of Rite Aid locations Walgreens is looking to close, stores in West Virginia could be affected.
“I don’t have any information at this point,” said Caruso. “It’s possible. I don’t want to say that we’re done, but at this time, I don’t have any other information about it.”