With one of Franklin’s vital pharmacies facing closure, it appears that the prescription to keep it open was assistance from West Virginia’s two United States Senators.
According to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, “the people who heard first were the employees.” In 2018, Walgreens acquired 1,932 Rite Aid stores, including all 104 in West Virginia, for $4.4 billion with initial plans to close approximately 600 locations across the nation. Grocery giant Albertson’s bought approximately 2,500 of the remaining stores.
At the time, Walgreens regional vice president said “We look forward to welcoming West Virginia Rite Aid customers to Walgreens.” He added that “We’ve been a trusted brand since 1901, and we’re proud to serve West Virginia as we expand our presence through convenient Rite Aid locations in communities across the state.”
Manchin said of the Franklin Walgreens that “it’s a staple in the area” and “our staff really kicked it into gear” to try to save the location.” That included connecting the Senator with Walgreen’s corporate leadership.
“I pressed on the corporate head,” Manchin said. He stated that he explained to company executives that “if you are not losing money, or if you are not making as much as you want, ask what the brand identity is worth.” With Pendleton County’s expanding tourist economy, visitors from outside appreciate a familiar brand name when they need pharmacy products and services. Additionally, Manchin pressed executives by asking “have they invested to make it better? They can’t just do nothing. They must make a commitment.”
Senator Shelley Moore Capito also received word from area individuals and organizations concerned about the loss of the pharmacy, saying “when I heard about the Walgreens closure, I looked into options to prevent it from happening.” She added that “I reminded Walgreens about what such an action would mean to the people of Franklin who depend on their services for their drugs, vaccines, and, in many cases, their jobs.”
Fourteen people work for the Walgreens store in Franklin.
Manchin also said that he asked, “before you make the final decision, consider the impact it will have in the area,” and that executives should compare the performance of rural stores with other rural facilities, not with those in the city or suburbs. “They took another look and they decided to stay,” he said.
The timing of the news of the possible closing of the Franklin location coincided with the news last month that Walgreens had reached an $83 million settlement with the office of Patrick Morrissey, West Virginia State Attorney General. According to a release, “the settlement resolves a lawsuit that alleged the pharmacy chain failed to maintain effective controls as a distributor and dispenser against diversion that contributed to oversupply of opioids in the state.”
“We will continue to seek out justice for those affected the most by the opioid epidemic that hit our state the hardest,” Morrisey said in the release, adding that, “This and other settlements will not bring back the lives lost from the opioid menace, but our hope is that the money would provide significant help to those affected the most by this crisis in West Virginia.”
Other companies targeted by the lawsuit include Wal Mart, Kroger, and CVS.
Manchin explained that in the long-term plans for the store, “there’s no promises” and that the store needs support from the community so that its profits can make the case for staying open. Capito expressed appreciation for the decision to “hear my call to do right by the people of Pendleton County,” and added “I look forward to continuing to work with them on the future of the store.”