Residents of Albany's South End are stepping up efforts to keep a neighborhood pharmacy from closing.
More than a drug store, the South Pearl Street Rite-Aid has been a good neighbor, according to locals — a place where people can pick up bread, milk and other basic necessities, print photos, purchase small electronics and minutes to replenish their cell phones, receive flu shots, get tested for HIV...
The shop changed ownership as part of the sale of select Rite-Aid stores to Walgreens, which decided to close it. Neighbors rallied last month at the South Pearl Street location, which former Common Councilor Dom Calsolaro says serves the community of mostly low-income residents, including many seniors and people of color. Another rally was held Friday evening at the Holland Avenue Walgreens, where customer's prescriptions have been transferred. "And in order to get here, for the people that live in the South End, unless you live on the 100 bus line directly, you would have to take at least two buses to get here and two to get back to go a mile."
Neighbors imagine someone in a faraway Walgreens corporate office likely looked at a city map and saw one of the chain's newer stores a mere mile away. What they didn't see as they made arrangements to transfer prescriptions and patient records to that store, was the topography involved. "In the South End, according to the last census, about 40 percent of the people don't own cars. Probably even a higher percentage than that, in reality."
"I'm gonna be said when they close, this is my store," said Kennisha, who lives nearby. "I don't know why they closin'."
Dave Lucas: "What do you usually come here for?"
"Household things, household things..."
Dave Lucas: "Where will you go when this closes."
"I don't know, I wanna come her but they closin' so I guess I have to go all the way to WalMart, which is a little ride."
A four-mile bus ride. At Friday's rally, First Ward Councilwoman Dorcey Applyrs told the crowd the people of the South End matter. "...and what we must send a message about is that no longer will we sit there and allow people to walk over people of color, walk over low income communities. Our communities matter also."
Applyrs says she is speaking for everyone who feels they have no voice. "People who live in this community deserve access to goods and services and medicine like everybody else. So this is a valuable gem in this community that they are proposing to remove and shut down. And as a result it will leave a big hole. Not just a big vacant box in our community, but for residents who have limited transportation and limited means, this will put them at a great loss. And so it will ultimately impact the quality of life for the residents who live in the South End."
Dave Lucas: "Have you heard any encouraging words at all?"
"I have not, and having spoken to some residents who have issues with walking, they are concerned about how they're gonna get access to their medication. That's a life or death issue that many of us take for granted."
Albany County legislator Sam Fein is one of 39 elected officials and community leaders who sent a letter to Walgreen's CEO requesting the South End Rite Aid be kept open. "The fact that we got so many people to sign on, people from levels of state representatives. We had people at the county level, the county executive, the mayor, it really shows the amount of support for keeping this pharmacy open, how important it is to the community."
Fein says there's also a petition going circulating that will also be forwarded to Walgreens, which did not immediately reply to a request for an update. Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso previously told WAMC that the South End Rite-Aid's last day of business will be September 19th and the store will remain open for about two additional weeks to allow for a final sale.
Letter to Walgreens CEO - Opposition to Rite Aid Closing by WAMC Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas on Scribd