Dec. 22—City Center Drug Co., is closing and it's a painful close, for customers who have been asking if the shuttering of the store was really happening, for the employees, as well as for the pharmacy's owner, Patrick O'Donnell.
The pharmacy, which has operated in downtown Aberdeen since the 1930s, will stay open through Dec. 27. The pharmacy's prescription records will turn over on Dec. 28 to Rite Aid, which bought City Center Drug.
O'Donnell has owned the pharmacy — 108 E. Wishkah St., — since about 2005. He doesn't want to sell it. He has to sell it.
"The real reason this is happening is there is a shortage of pharmacists and you can't get one," O'Donnell said in a phone interview. "I've had an application out there for three months and not one person applied. There is a shortage across the country of pharmacists right now. A lot of reasons for (the shortage,) but I can't open a pharmacy without a pharmacist. I cannot be driving down there every day and back. I had to come up with another solution and we couldn't. There was nothing we could really do."
O'Donnell, himself a pharmacist, lives in Gig Harbor. He has other shops in Tacoma and another in Port Townsend. Right now, he has one pharmacist who works at City Center Drug one day per week and he's been finding fill-ins for other days of the week. Sometimes he fills in. But, he can't find a full-time pharmacist. He said Rite Aid approached him in early December. Usually, he said, he tells them he has no interest in talking about the store, but this year, it appeared to be the only thing left to do for the store. The late-December closure is to make things easier on him, his staff, and his customers.
The fact he can't find a full-time pharmacist also leads to what he said was his top priority for the shop and for his customers.
"My biggest goal here is to make sure the patients are taken care of," O'Donnell said.
The thought of O'Donnell's employees brought a more positive tone to his voice on Tuesday. O'Donnell has kept them in mind through the process of selling and closing.
"The employees are all taken care of," O'Donnell said. "They have job offers at a couple places, (and) they're with me too. I have other stores. They're just not down (in Aberdeen). They're gonna most likely continue to work for me."
It's important to O'Donnell to make sure his staff members all have alternatives.
"They have multiple options and I think they're going to end up working remotely for me, which is nice," O'Donnell said. "It gives them options."
O'Donnell also knows, of late, things haven't been easy for the staff.
"They're working very hard to try to make everything work," O'Donnell said. "They know what we're doing is not sustainable, like physically, it's not sustainable. If anybody had to take their vacation right now, I don't know what we'd do. They've been working around the clock to make sure most people don't notice that we're running a very lean amount of people in there, very lean."
Besides the inability to find a full-time pharmacist, there have been other difficulties through the years.
"It's disappointing," O'Donnell said about closing. "But I've also been kind of maintaining it when it hasn't been real profitable. It's not in the best spot for a pharmacy. There are no doctor's offices real close. There are a lot of reasons. It's a small, independent store and you don't see very many like it around anymore."
While some people in town might have a harsh opinion of Rite Aid because of its purchase of City Center Drug, O'Donnell hopes they don't. And that's coming from someone who "grew up working in a pharmacy." O'Donnell worked for Central Drug while he was in high school. He then went to Grays Harbor College, before finishing his college work at the University of Washington, where he completed his doctorate.
"I would like to see Rite-Aid get a chance to do what they claim (they'll) do," O'Donnell said. "But, it's not my decision. It's the patient's decision."
O'Donnell celebrates the "fun rivalry," between Washington and Washington State University. The pharmacy sells both Husky and Cougar-themed merchandise.
"It's like the Aberdeen-Hoquiam rivalry," said O'Donnell, who graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1993. "It's good to have, but no one takes it seriously where you don't like each other."
Once the shop closes, O'Donnell's also going to donate a few things — such as a 100-year-old scale — to the Aberdeen Museum of History.
Reona Dierick, who works as a pharmacy assistant at City Center Drug, spoke to The Daily World on Wednesday about what the store means to her, and her thoughts on O'Donnell having to close it.
"It's like home," said Dierick, who's worked at the pharmacy for 19 years. "It's our second home. You get to know the people and the community here. It's just tough. I tear up just thinking about it. To all of us, it really is a second home."
If you want to stay with Rite-Aid:
For people who are interested in using another pharmacy besides Rite-Aid, they can transfer their prescriptions to anywhere they please, according to O'Donnell. For people who would like to use Rite-Aid, the company issued a statement containing information on how to contact the store's downtown Aberdeen location:
"Effective Dec. 28, 2022, City Center Drug will be closed and all prescription records will be transferred to Rite-Aid Pharmacy, No. 5282, at 301 E. Wishkah St., in Aberdeen, Washington," the company's statement reads. "Please call 360-533-6320, or visit Rite-Aid for all your prescriptions, health, and beauty needs."