Chicago Crusader staff report
For decades, scores of customers have frequented the Walgreens store in Woodlawn, where pharmacy prescriptions account for a bulk of the store’s sales. But on August 17, the Walgreens at 6330 S. King Drive will close, leaving thousands of aging residents without a neighborhood pharmacy and an uncertain future for dozens of employees, some of whom worked there for years.
The pending closure has raised questions about Walgreens commitment to underserved neighborhoods. While Walgreens closes many underperforming stores, the company is not releasing details on opening new stores in other neighborhoods as it seeks to boosts profits by cutting costs.
Employees at the Woodlawn store learned about the closure on Friday, July 22. The announcement stunned many customers, some of whom have frequented the Walgreens store in Woodlawn for decades. Sources told the Crusader that several employees have worked at the Woodlawn for 15 or 20 years.
The Walgreens is among 200 stores around the country that Walgreens plans to close as part of a three-year effort to cut costs and save $1.5 billion. Last year, Walgreens closed stores in Harvey, Blue Island and the South Shore neighborhood.
Walgreens has been streamlining its operations since merging with Boots Alliance in 2014. Boots Alliance is Europe’s largest pharmaceutical wholesaler. Since the merger, Walgreens has drawn concern about being an oversized corporation that’s more focused on profits than meeting the needs of underserved communities.
It is not clear whether the employees in Woodlawn will be transferred or rehired at other Walgreens stores, but customers are saddened and deeply concerned about the loss of the store’s pharmacy, which handles many prescriptions for aging residents.
“I think this is a bunch of bullcrap,” said Woodlawn resident Sade Richman, 25.
Richman said she frequents the Walgreens at least four times a week for her mother, who has been unable to drive since an accident a year ago. After the Woodlawn store closes, Richman will be forced to drive to the Walgreens in Hyde Park on 47th Street. She is also concerned that Woodlawn would lose more tax dollars because the neighborhood is in a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district.
“I feel like I’m putting my money in someone else’s neighborhood,” she said.
Another Woodlawn resident, Solester Collins agreed.
“It’s sad. A lot of people are losing their jobs for no reason and leaving the community without a pharmacy is a loss on both sides,” he said.
The Woodlawn neighborhood is in a food and pharmacy desert. While there is a Save-A-Lot supermarket located on one block east of S. King Drive and 63rd street. There are very few pharmacies in the neighborhood.
The Walgreens in Woodlawn was one of the oldest on the South Side. The store has been around longer than the Crusader office, which opened in 1964 nearly two blocks south of Walgreens.
Customers are being directed to shop at Walgreens stores in Englewood, Hyde Park and the South Shore neighborhoods, but with little transportation, a trip to those stores could be a challenge to some residents.
Phil Caruso, a spokesperson for Walgreens, said the company closed stores that are competing with each other within a certain radius.
“There’s a set of criteria that we have. We look at the proximity of other Walgreens stores that may be competing with each other,” Caruso said.
As far as the employees’ future, Caruso did not give any details, but he said, the majority of employees from closed stores have successfully transferred to other jobs.
Caruso said customers at the Woodlawn store can shop or pick up their pharmacy prescriptions at the Walgreens store on 63rd street and Halsted. He said all prescriptions will be automatically transferred to that store, but customers can request to pick them up at any location. Caruso said a letter will be sent out to prescription customers telling them about the move.
A spokesperson for 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran said he was aware of the Walgreens closure and adamantly opposed it.