News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Bi-Mart pharmacy closing, store to remain

In a move that surprised the seven-member team of Bi-Mart pharmacy in Sisters, they were informed Tuesday of the acquisition by Walgreens of all pharmacies throughout the 80-store chain in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Nobody in management at the Sisters operation would go on the record with The Nugget.

“This decision, while difficult, is strategically important as we move to strengthen our solid financial position and expand our plans for future growth in the Northwest,” CEO Rich Truett said in a press release.

“Bi-Mart’s core business is healthy and strong,” Truett said, in announcing that all of Bi-Mart’s stores will remain open. “However, over the years, factors such as increasing costs and ongoing reimbursement pressure has led in part to our decision.”

The Nugget spoke at length with Don Leber, VP of marketing and advertising at the Eugene headquarters.

“We have 80 total stores, and 56 had pharmacies,” he said. “We made the decision two years ago to stop filling prescriptions at the 13 stores in the Portland area and gradually a few others.”

He blamed rising medical costs and a new Oregon business tax for the pullout.

When asked how the Sisters store would utilize the vacated space, Leber said, “We are considering several options, one of which is making that area our e-commerce section, particularly since it has the pickup window already in place.”

Reports are contradictory with some statements claiming that all pharmacies will discontinue by some time in mid-November. Leber on the other hand told us that Walgreens is still considering which stores, if any, might maintain a Walgreens pharmacy on the premises, as some of Bi-Mart’s rural locations do not have a Walgreens location within reasonable distance.

Location was a big part of the concern and frustration expressed by Sisters folk picking up prescriptions on Thursday and Friday, and learning of the news. Roberta Evans, who lives with her elderly mother in Black Butte Ranch, was not looking forward to driving a farther distance to a Redmond or Bend Walgreens.

“It’s not just the drive,” Evans said. “I don’t like those big, out-of-town chains. Everybody here at Bi-Mart knows me.”

Lydia (last name withheld) from Sisters has aging parents, one with Parkinson’s and one with health complications from anxiety disorder and hypertension.

“My family has critical medication needs including Schedule II narcotics that I can’t get by mail. It will be a hardship driving to a big-box store 20 miles away,” she said.

Walgreens has essentially bought a Bi-Mart customer list and some inventory.

Both companies assure their customers that prescriptions will be transferred in an orderly fashion. Prescription files will be fully integrated into Walgreens’ data systems without a customer having to do anything proactive. No customer has any obligation to have his or her prescriptions filled by the 9,000-plus Walgreens store chain, 70 of which are in


The presumed beneficiary of the Bi-Mart/Walgreens deal is thought to be Sisters Drug, located in Ray’s Food Place. Not so, according to owners Pill Box Drugs, who are based in Vancouver, Washington. Pill Box Drugs owns six small pharmacies in small to mid-size towns in Oregon. Sisters Drug recently reduced hours, which was the impetus for one of their pharmacy tech’s move to Bi-Mart.

Sisters Drug is a smaller space with a single pharmacist. It is not certain that two or more pharmacists, a tech or two, and a cashier can all fit in the tight


Leber told us that the two cashier/clerk employees at Bi-Mart can immediately move to the main


“We have been running at nearly half our budgeted work force for almost a year,” he said, reiterating the frustration of employers everywhere.

It is a common distress call among Sisters businesses.

“The technicians are paid more and may not wish to remain at the store in non-management positions. Nationwide, they are in high demand, like pharmacists, and will have good prospects for employment within the Walgreens family,” Leber said.

He further explained how the two pharmacists would be eligible for severance packages in the unlikely event they could not find employment elsewhere.

Customers can expect longer lines the next few weeks at Bi-Mart pharmacy as loyal customers take time to bid fond farewell to the departing crew.


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