The Pharmaca on College Avenue in Oakland is closing after an acquisition deal that will shutter all 22 of the pharmacy chain’s stores in California, including the Solano Avenue location in Berkeley.
Both the Berkeley and Rockridge locations are closing their pharmacies Thursday and their retail operations by Feb. 25.
On Tuesday the Pharmaca chain’s parent company, Medly Health — a Brooklyn-based digital pharmacy business — was bought by Walgreens for $19.35 million as part of a deal approved by a judge in the U.S. Court for the District of Delaware.
Pharmaca had already been on shaky ground. Berkeley customers noticed empty shelves in the store in late December, shortly after Medly Health filed for bankruptcy. Store managers there denied rumors that the store might be closing because they had been told by the company that the empty shelves were due to supply chain issues.
The past several years haven’t been easy for pharmacy customers in Berkeley.
Walgreens closed two Berkeley pharmacies in 2020 and 2021, while staffing shortages through the pandemic have caused pharmacies to temporarily shut down without notice. All of the major chain retailers — CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid – have announced cutbacks in hours and closures as the industry shifts to online delivery.
Kris Lathan, a Walgreens spokesperson, wrote in an email that Pharmaca prescription files and inventory would be automatically transferred to nearby Walgreens pharmacies by mid-February. The closest Berkeley Walgreens is on Gilman Street. Rockridge customers’ prescriptions are being transferred to the Telegraph Avenue and 51st Street Walgreens.
“Patients do not need to take any action,” Lathan wrote in an email. “Patients will receive notice about any changes through mail and other means with details about continued access to their prescriptions and other services.”
On Feb. 9, the Berkeley store was busy with customers running in to pick up their prescriptions before the pharmacy closed for good at 7 p.m. (Retail store hours will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m. from Feb. 10-25.)
Beth Katz, carrying a sleeping infant in a Baby Bjorn, said that Pharmaca’s closure will pose an inconvenience. She lives nearby and liked being able to walk to pick up her prescription.
The nearest pharmacies are at the Safeway on Solano Avenue and Neilson Street in Albany and the CVS three blocks farther west on Solano.
“I’m sort of speechless,” said Lynn Lee, 71, a Pharmaca customer headed out of the store. “Unfortunately it’s such a great location in the neighborhood. It is unfortunate because it has been here for years. It is a wonderful store.”
Lee said she got all her COVID-19 shots at the branch and mentioned that the closing would affect many seniors who patronize the store.
Katherine Bell from Richmond said she had been notified by phone the day before to pick up her mother’s prescription before the pharmacy closed. The message also notified her that if she did not switch the prescription to the pharmacy of her choice, it would automatically be switched to the Gilman Street Walgreens, which had to temporarily close its pharmacy in 2022 due to staffing shortages. Instead, she was considering an independent pharmacy closer to home.
Baird Whaley, 93, was not notified by Walgreens and found out that the store was closing by the end of the business day when he happened to check on a prescription.
“This is terrible,” he said. “It has been so much better than the other chains. I’ve had wonderful service here.”
He, too, didn’t know where he would transfer his prescription. Since he lives in the Berkeley Hills, he thought Gilman Street was too far. “Unfortunately, I think I will have to go to one of those other chains.”
The Solano store was one of the first Pharmaca stores in the region, opening in the early aughts. Its staff of about 10 were notified of the closing shortly after Walgreens took ownership of the chain on Tuesday.
“We are going to miss being part of the community as much as the community is going to miss us,” said Valerie Rodrigues, the store’s retail manager, who was still shaken up by the news. “Things just didn’t quite work out, unfortunately, all the way around.”