Walgreens stores in three Boston neighborhoods are set to close this week, leaving customers and community leaders worried residents will have to trek farther for prescriptions and other necessities.
The three stores will shutter in quick succession: 2275 Washington Street near Roxbury’s Nubian Square is set to close Tuesday, 1329 Hyde Park Avenue in Hyde Park on Wednesday, and 90 River St. in Mattapan on Thursday. The pharmacies — all located in overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic communities — are transferring patient files to other Walgreens locations, but each is at least a mile’s walk away.
“We really do need this store here,” said Jessica Murphy, who lives near the soon-to-close Roxbury location, where she regularly picks up hygiene products and snacks. “It’s the only store in this neighborhood. So we all feel like we’re getting cheated out of something.”
In an emailed statement, Walgreens spokesperson Kris Lathan did not provide a specific reason for why the stores are closing.
“As we expand as a leader in healthcare, we are focused on best meeting the needs of patients and customers in communities we serve by creating the right network of stores in the right locations,” said the statement. “When faced with the difficult task of closing a particular location, several factors are taken into account, including things like the dynamics of the local market and changes in the buying habits of our patients and customers, for example.”
Tatiana Williams, another frequent customer at the Roxbury location, was stocking up on discounted products on Thursday. She said she recently got a letter announcing the closure.
“I do walk here, so I won’t have a walking-distance pharmacy anymore,” she said, carrying armfuls of sponges, tissues, and shampoo. “I think it’s definitely going to be a little bit more difficult for the community.”
Williams said she will likely drive to another Walgreens location to pick up her prescriptions — there’s one seven-tenths of a mile away, in the South End, though Walgreens is referring Nubian Square customers to another store on Warren Street in Roxbury, a bit over a mile away.
But, she said, driving isn’t an option for everyone. In Roxbury, 44 percent of the population has no access to a vehicle, according to the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
“Everybody doesn’t have the means to go just drive down the street and go to another pharmacy, so I definitely think it will have a huge impact,” she said. “It’s a busy store, so the community will definitely feel it when the store is closed.”
Both Roxbury and Mattapan are low-income communities, with median household incomes notably lower than that of Boston as a whole. (The median household income in Hyde Park is slightly above the city’s average of $76,000.) A 2019 study from JAMA Internal Medicine that examined US pharmacy closures from 2009-2015 found that in urban areas, pharmacies that served disproportionately low-income, uninsured, and publicly insured populations “were at increased risk of closure.”
The locations of these closures are worrisome to local political leaders, who urged Walgreens to reconsider or at least delay shuttering.
“This is a sudden removal of a resource and the community that’s used by so many of our neighbors,” said Brian Worrell, the Boston City Councilor whose district includes the Mattapan Walgreens. “This raises a lot of concern to me when it comes to talking about services to Black and brown communities that have historically been underinvested in.”
The pharmacy in Mattapan currently fills an estimated 350 prescriptions a day and serves “hundreds” of patients, according to pharmacy operations manager Christina Whittaker.
Worrell said he is penning a resolution with other councilors whose constituencies are being impacted by the closures, urging Walgreens to delay closing these stores by 30 days. “I have all the faith that Walgreens will do the right thing to make sure that we are effectively communicating to our constituents who have helped them in their business for so long,” he said.
Tania Fernandes Anderson, the city councilor whose district includes the Roxbury Walgreens, echoed Worrell’s concerns.
“It will make it harder for our elders, those without cars, and those with mobility issues to access their medicines and other household goods that Walgreens sells,” she said in an emailed statement. “This represents a real blow to three predominantly working class communities in our city.”
The Illinois-based chain has announced several rounds of mass closures in recent years. In 2015, they said they intended to close about 200 stores, and made a similar announcement in 2019, with a goal of saving the company about $1.5 billion.
Regionally, Walgreens — which operated about 9,000 stores nationally as of August 2020 — has faced a spate of troubles recently.
In early October, a pharmacy location in Easthampton closed “until further notice” due to staffing shortages, leaving the entire town without a pharmacy, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. (The pharmacy has since reopened.) In September, state Representative Mike Connolly got involved when two separate Cambridge Walgreens locations faced intermittent closures, with the company pointing to staffing shortages spurred by the national pharmacist shortage, according to Cambridge Day.
In June, Vermont state regulators filed a complaint against the chain, alleging Walgreens acted in “conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public” by closing stores without notice and leaving locations understaffed, according to the Bennington Banner. The complaint called on the state’s Board of Pharmacy to “revoke, suspend, reprimand, condition or otherwise discipline” Walgreens’ license to operate in Vermont.
Alexis Santana, who came to the Roxbury store on Thursday with her 4-year-old daughter, Yuri, said the closure was unexpected. She has arranged to pick up her prescriptions at the Tufts Medical Center pharmacy, about two miles away.
Will it be a hassle? “I don’t know,” she said. “We’re learning.”
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.