Rite Aid closed its downtown and Telegraph Road locations in September 2023. Three Bellingham locations on Northwest Avenue, Sunset Drive and Sehome Village remain open.
“They're filing for bankruptcy to eliminate some of their debts so that they can hopefully stay afloat,” said Bethany King, a research economist at Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research. “That doesn't necessarily mean that they're all completely going to close."
When asked for comment, Rite Aid provided a link to their statement on restructuring. The closing stores are public records through Chapter 11 court filings.
Rite Aid reached an agreement with financial stakeholders on a restructuring plan in order to continue its business transformation, Rite Aid’s media statement said.
Trudi Hess, a manager at the Rite Aid on Telegraph, received less than 30 days notice for her location closing. While some employees transferred to another location, she was left without a job after two years of employment.
“I was told that my location was thrown in the pile at the last minute to join the other Washington closures,” Hess said.
Hess scanned and packed most of the store by herself leading up to the closure. Customers were surprised by the quick transition, she said.
“It happened so fast, I was pulling things off the shelf right in front of them,” Hess said. “It was very sad for all of us.”
Despite the remaining locations, the closed stores have affected residents who depend on Rite Aid's close proximity for their prescriptions and everyday essentials.
Downtown residents have been disproportionately affected due to the many low-income residents who now have to travel much farther to get to their new pharmacies.
“It's funny because people don't think about how many people live downtown, but there are quite a lot of us and quite a lot of low-income residents,” said Cordelia Ridley, a low-income resident in downtown Bellingham.
Customers at the closed Rite Aids will be transferred to a nearby location.
Ridley had to transfer to a Rite Aid pharmacy one and a quarter miles away. However, with the influx of customers, the pharmacy is overloaded, increasing wait times, they said.
“I sometimes have to go to the pharmacy multiple times a month and that's going to be very difficult for me, especially in inclement weather,” Ridley said. “The wait is longer, it's difficult to get a hold of them on the phone, they don't fill the prescriptions in as timely of a manner.”
Ridley’s neighbor, Candance Street, has not decided which pharmacy she will transfer to. Either way, she has to take a long bus ride.
“It's, of course, a different feel, not just because it's new, but they're bigger,” Street said. “They're much more of a corporate feel than a neighborhood feel.”
Rite Aid was as much of a community spot as a pharmacy, she said.
“You could cross paths with many people there, even some people that you would see there more often than you might even in your own building,” Street said.
Many of these pharmacies act as a health care service. They provide necessary medical care such as vaccinations, blood pressure checks and diabetes testing for people lacking insurance or access to health care, King said.
“We're going to have some serious equity issues just in accessing health care resulting from this,” King said.
No more Rite Aid locations have announced the closing of their doors in Bellingham as of now.
While the Rite Aid closures are the result of corporate business decisions, the impact it has on the community is far-reaching.
“I recognize that there are business realities for these things, but more and more, it's like they aren't considering all the hidden impacts to people's lives,” Street said. “Oftentimes, sadly, it seems to impact the have-less more than it should.”
Jenna Millikan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year student majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. When not reporting, she enjoys cheesy movies, reading and drinking too much coffee.
You can reach her @firstname.lastname@example.org