Bi-Mart surprised customers this week by announcing the closure of the pharmacies at two of its Vancouver-area locations. Both stores will remain open, minus the pharmacies.
The pharmacy at 2601 Falk Road in Vancouver is scheduled to close Monday and the pharmacy at 11912 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. in Orchards is scheduled to close Tuesday, according to notices displayed at the counter in each location.
The decision was influenced by multiple factors, according to Bi-Mart’s vice president of marketing and advertising, Don Leber, including an increasingly competitive industry and rising costs associated with prescriptions. The pharmacies have been unable to generate sales needed to stay open, he said.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s also a business and you have to be able to be profitable to run the store,” he said. “That’s just the reality, unfortunately.”
Multiple customers said they learned of the decision earlier this week after visiting one of the two stores to pick up prescriptions and talking with the pharmacists.
“I went in there and everybody was crying,” said Vancouver resident Diane Kasch. “It’s devastating (after) going somewhere for a couple of decades, going to the best pharmacy in town.”
Kasch expressed concern for the pharmacists at the two locations, as well as the customers. The Bi-Mart locations serve many elderly customers who rely on those pharmacies for regular medications and don’t have easy access to alternative locations, she said.
Another customer, Doug Ginsmore, voiced similar concerns and criticized what he characterized as a lack of clear communication about the closure. He and his wife are in their 70s and rely on one of the Bi-Mart pharmacies for daily medications, he said. After finding out about the closure this week, he said he wasn’t sure where the prescriptions were being transferred or what to tell his doctor.
He also criticized the effect of the decision on the two stores’ pharmacists, some of whom he said had been working there for decades, developing close relationships with their customers.
“You know your pharmacist and she knows you,” he said. “It’s like your doctor.”
Pharmacists at both locations referred questions to Bi-Mart’s corporate office in Eugene, Ore.
Leber, the Bi-Mart spokesman, said the operating challenges at the two Vancouver-area pharmacies became more pronounced in the past few years, eventually forcing the closure.
Increased competition was part of the problem, Leber said. But the administration and processing of prescriptions has also become more expensive due to the addition of new fees, and those costs can’t simply be passed on to customers.
“It becomes part of your operating expenses,” he said.
Pharmacies operate with slim margins to begin with, he said, so the fees can add up and cause the pharmacy to begin losing money.
A Bi-Mart pharmacy in Scappoose, Ore., is also scheduled to close next week for similar reasons, Leber said. But the remainder will stay open, including Portland-area pharmacies and the one in Washougal.
Customers’ existing prescriptions at the two pharmacies will be transferred to Walgreens, Leber said. The company is looking for alternate job placements for the pharmacists, at other Bi-Marts or at Walgreens, he said.
The notices at the counters of the pharmacies indicate the customers’ prescriptions will be transferred to the nearest Walgreens, although customers can also move their prescriptions to any other Walgreens location.
The nearest Walgreens to the Falk Road Bi-Mart is at 2903 N.E. Andresen Road, about a mile and a half to the east. The nearest Walgreens to the Orchards Bi-Mart is at 6105 N.E. 114th Ave., about a half mile to the west.