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News / Health / Health Wire

Washington pharmacies close in record numbers as Bartell Drugs, Rite Aid slide

By Alison Saldanha, The Seattle Times
Published: February 23, 2024, 10:45am

A record number of Washington state pharmacies shut down last year, driven by the string of Bartell Drugs and Rite Aid closures in the Seattle area.

About 60 pharmacies closed in 2023, which is twice as many closures as recorded the previous year, according to a Seattle Times analysis of Department of Health data on active and closed pharmacies.

More than half of the shuttered businesses were Bartell Drugs and Thrifty Payless pharmacies — both owned by struggling pharmacy giant Rite Aid — across King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

In October, Rite Aid filed for bankruptcy in an effort to close unprofitable stores, address lawsuits related to its role in the opioid pandemic and rework a debt load of roughly $4 billion.

Barely three years before, in 2020, the Pennsylvania chain acquired Seattle-based, family-owned Bartell Drugs for $95 million. The beloved 130-year-old Seattle institution was under intense financial strain after years of uncertainty.

Since the takeover, more than 20 Bartell Drugs stores have closed in the Seattle area — more than double the number of stores closed by the regional chain over the decade preceding the acquisition.

In 1996, when Rite Aid was the largest drugstore chain in the U.S., it acquired Thrifty Payless, formerly the largest chain in the region, taking over more than 150 drugstores in the Seattle area.

From 2005 to 2023 more than 30 of these pharmacies closed, and one in three terminated their businesses this past year.

Over the two decades leading up to 2023, more than half of Washington’s 525 pharmacy closures took place in the Seattle area. In 2023, two of every three shuttered pharmacies in the state were in King County.

The store closures saw Bartell Drugs drop out of the top 5 pharmacy chains in the state, and Safeway and Walgreens now pass Rite Aid as operators of the most drugstores in Washington.