By STEVEN NALLEY
Starkville Discount Drugs closed its doors Tuesday after 36 years in business, with Walgreens absorbing the store’s prescription accounts as part of Walgreen Co.’s nationwide acquisition of the USA Drug pharmacy chain.
Walgreens representatives present at Starkville Discount Drugs’ Jackson Street location declined to comment on the closure and said Starkville Discount Drugs employees would not be able to comment either, referring questions to James Graham, Walgreens corporate media relations representative. Graham then e-mailed a statement concerning Mississippi stores under the USA Drug umbrella, which said while seven USA Drug stores in Mississippi will remain open, ten more, including Starkville Discount Drugs, will close. Other cities with USA Drug stores set to close include Brookhaven, Byram, Flowood, Hernando, Jackson, Oxford, and Tupelo.
“When a store is closed, all its prescription drug customers will be notified of the location of a nearby Walgreens or USA Drug-affiliated store where their prescription information will be transferred,” the statement said. “No other action is needed by pharmacy customers to have their existing prescriptions filled at any Walgreens store. In anticipation of the completion of the transaction (between Walgreens and USA Drug), we took some steps to align our geographic and market locations.
After careful planning and market analysis, we began to notify employees of our intent to close 10 stores in Mississippi. Our decisions about store closures are based on a number of considerations, including size of the market and proximity to other Walgreens and USA Drug stores and affiliates. We expect to close the stores by November.”
Walgreens first announced the acquisition in an early July press release, which says the transaction includes 144 drug stores in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In this press release, Stephen LaFrance, owner of the USA Drug chain, said the chain began with a single store opened in Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1968.
“We chose to sell our business to Walgreens not only because it is the premier drug store company in our industry,” LaFrance said in the release, “but also because Walgreens will continue to provide our customers with the service and products they have come to expect.”
Tabor Properties owner Larry Tabor said he took over the store from its previous owner in 1984, selling the business and leasing the building to USA Drug in 2007. He said the sale of USA Drug and the closure of Starkville Discount Drugs that came with it was a surprise.
“(Lead pharmacist Roy Smith) and I ... sold the store to (USA Drug) with the intention that it stay with them, because we insisted they keep the same location, all of the same employees, all of the charge accounts, the name and the location,” Tabor said. “We had offers at the time from Walgreens and CVS, but the reason we went with USA Drug ... is (because) they kept everything the same. The store was one of the leading-volume USA Drug stores, so (the USA Drug executives) didn’t think it was going to be consolidated.”
As part of the sale, Tabor said, he signed a 10-year non-compete clause preventing him from opening a store elsewhere in Starkville, so opening another Starkville Discount Drugs location will not be an option for Tabor for another five years. Walgreens will also have to honor three remaining three years on the building lease, Tabor said.
“We’re very appreciative of the people of Starkville for their business for the last 40 years,” Tabor said. “We’ve had a lot of wonderful customers and a lot of wonderful experiences.”
One of those customers was Sandy Cook, who said she has been a customer with Starkville Discount Drugs since the day Tabor took it over. She said she was sad to see Starkville Discount Drugs go.
“The people that worked there were like family, and Roy Smith ... was a dear, dear pharmacist to go to when we needed questions answered,” Cook said. “We loved going there. We’re from the generation where your druggist was a close family friend. You could go to them and tell them your deepest, darkest condition. It’s a special relationship that you build over years, and I don’t know that people do that anymore.”
Cook said she will also miss Starkville Discount Drugs because it was convenient to her side of town; she lives on Old West Point Road.
“When you’ve just been to the doctor, and you feel sick, you don’t feel like driving across town to get medication, especially if it’s something you’d have to sit and wait for,” Cook said. “We don’t have a grocery store on our side of town, and now we don’t have a prescription store. I would have liked Walgreens if they had stayed over on this side of town and had their (grocery) items over there like they do (on Louisville Street.)”
On Tuesday, Cook said she visited Walgreens to fill her prescriptions as directed by signs in the Starkville Discount Drugs building’s windows. She said she crossed paths with Larry Tabor while there before going to the store’s prescription counter — and then turning back.
“There were 8 or 10 people back there waiting to get prescriptions,” Cook said. “The people at the back were busy, scrambling around. I went back to Larry and I told him, ‘I can’t do this.’ I went over to Zip Scripts, and I moved our prescriptions over there. They’re over by our side of town, close to the hospital.”