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Pharmacy Desert Coming To Detroit Due To Shoplifting?

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There has been a great deal said about pharmacy deserts developing in cities across America. Much less said about their most common cause:

5th metro Detroit drugstore closes and customers think they know why
By JC Reindl - March 13, 2024

The recent news that a busy Rite Aid store in Midtown Detroit will soon be closing — reportedly because of theft — was disappointing for some longtime shoppers, although not a big surprise to everyone.

Detroit resident Aaron Boone, 61, recalled how he was standing in the checkout line a few months ago when he saw a man simply walk out of the store without paying for a large pack of beer.

"He (came) right there like he was going to pay for a 30-pack of beer, and he walked right out," Boone said. "It’s terrible, man."

Aaron Boone, 61, of Detroit, in front of the Rite Aid on Woodward Avenue near Forest on Friday, March 8, 2024.
The Rite Aid at 4612 Woodward is among the latest batch of "underperforming" stores that the drugstore chain has made plans to close since filing for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy last fall. The Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid chain intends to stay in business, but with hundreds fewer of the 2,000 stores and retail pharmacies that it had last year in 17 states.

A Rite Aid corporate spokesperson didn't give the specific reasons why it was decided to close the Woodward Avenue location. However, store staff have been telling customers that theft was a reason. One employee, who did not provide their name, told the Free Press last week that theft was among the reasons for the closure.

The store at one time stationed a security guard near the entrance. However, the guard wasn't directed to chase after suspected shoplifters and therefore didn't deter all of the theft, one staffer told a customer. Some of the more expensive merchandise in the store, including laundry detergents and hair regrowth products, are placed behind locked shelves.

The landlord of the building said Rite Aid had been a tenant for 20 years and didn't specify why it is leaving. The store is on the ground floor of an Albert Kahn-designed building that is over 100 years old and has 56 residential apartments.

"We don’t know why they left. Frankly, their sales were going up every year," Christine Jonna, of Bloomfield Hills-based Jonna Companies, said Monday. "It wasn’t a matter of rent; we even offered them a sweeter deal.”

The Federal Trade Commission in December barred Rite Aid from using facial recognition technology in its stores for five years in a settlement for allegations that the drugstore chain's efforts to stop known shoplifters from entering its stores resulted in false accusations toward innocent shoppers, particularly people of color. The FTC claimed Rite Aid had at one time deployed the facial recognition technology in multiple states, including Michigan.

Once the doors shut next month, the Midtown Detroit Rite Aid will become at least the fifth drugstore to close in the past six or seven years along a stretch of Woodward Avenue running through Detroit and Highland Park.

The other shuttered pharmacy stores include:

  • A CVS at 10301 Woodward Ave. that closed in 2019 and briefly became a charter school.
  • A CVS at 7451 Woodward Ave. that closed in 2018 or early 2019 and is now a Happy Pizza.
  • A CVS at 14140 Woodward Ave. in Highland Park that closed in 2019 or 2020 and is now a Family Furniture store.
  • A Walgreens at 14048 Woodward Ave. in Highland Park that closed in about 2017 and is now a Family Dollar.

Asked about its past store closures, a CVS spokesman said many factors are taken into consideration when deciding to shut a location, including "local market dynamics, population shifts, store density and other access points to meet the community’s health and wellness needs."

Nationwide, drugstore chains have been closing various urban locations in recent years amid a rise in thefts and robberies. And retailer Target last fall said that theft and "organized retail crime" that threatened the safety of employees prompted their decision to close nine stores in four states.

A representative for the nonprofit community and development group Midtown Detroit Inc. said they haven't done any recent formal surveys of area retailers on the subject of theft.

"It never feels good to see a staple store that supports community members in our neighborhoods close, especially as this isn’t just a Midtown Detroit issue, but an example of what is happening across the country," Maureen Stapleton, the group's interim director, said in a statement. "We will certainly continue to monitor this situation and observe if there are some lessons learned to ensure we take the proper steps — within our control — to prevent this from happening again."

The Rite Aid store closure, set to happen March 25 for the pharmacy and April 21 for the store, will be an inconvenience for residents such as Ross Consuegra, 67, who said he will likely transfer his prescriptions to a 24-hour CVS that is in the general area at the corner of Brush Street and East Warren Avenue.

"So I got my options," Consuegra said. "But for other people, it’s very disappointing."

More than two dozen Rite Aid locations in Michigan have closed or will be closing as part of the company's ongoing reorganization. The Rite Aid website says there are now about 1,700 total stores.



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