In 1890, Seattle was a city of about 42,000 people trying to recover from a destructive fire the year before. That’s when a 21-year-old man from Kansas named George H. Bartell, Sr., bought a pharmacy in Seattle’s Central District and launched his eponymous company, Bartell Drugs.
Now, 130 years later, that beloved Pacific Northwest drugstore chain of 67 stores is getting swallowed up by the larger pharmacy company, Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid. The transaction value is $95 million.
Customers in Seattle said they were saddened by the news. They said they appreciated Bartell’s commitment to offering locally made goods, including Aplets & Cotlets and candy from Theo and Seattle Chocolates.
Alicia Chunn said the pharmacists at her local Bartell in the Admiral neighborhood of West Seattle know her by name and she’s appreciated shopping at a locally owned business.
“Bartell has been a Washington family-owned company for so long, and I kind of like that, and I feel like we don’t have as many of those as we used to,” she said.
In a letter on its website, Bartell said the move to sell was driven by “changes in the pharmacy world, business tax increases and the pandemic,” and that it had become increasingly difficult to remain independent as a midsize drugstore chain. Rite Aid and Bartell said in a press release that the stores will keep the Bartell name. Customers and Bartell’s 1,700 employees can expect to see little or no change for “some time to come,” the company said.
Losing Bartell as a locally owned company comes amid a tough year, in which the pandemic has led to the closure of many restaurants.
Monica Joyce Walker stopped to talk after shopping at the Admiral District Bartell. She said the sale is a loss for this region.
“I feel sad about it because I always shop here because it’s a local neighborhood spot,” Walker said. “I like that they’re very personalized and the people here know you. I just don’t like the chain stores.”