USA Drug Sale Sparks New Competition From Independent Pharmacists

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 12:00 am  

Terry and Jennifer Perkins are opening Oak Grove Pharmacy JFK in the aftermath of the USA Drug sale. (Photo by Jason Burt)

On first impression, the $438 million sale of the USA Drug chain to Walgreens looks like a case of corporate consolidation complete with the loss of jobs and consumer choices.

However, behind the scenes, smaller operators are rushing to fill the void that one described as "exciting." The largest drugstore chain based in Arkansas, with locations in a seven-state region, is gone, but entrepreneurial-minded pharmacists hope to profit from the market shift.

"What you're going to see in the next six months are some independent pharmacies opening up," said Terry Perkins, owner of Oak Grove Pharmacy in North Little Rock. "The public will really benefit from it."

The details are still taking shape concerning exactly where and when those new pharmacies will crop up in the wake of the LaFrance family's sale to Walgreen Co.

Some of the former USA Drug pharmacists who lost their jobs in the merger are expected to begin returning to the market by year's end. For now, they are sitting on the sidelines, collecting severance pay, some as lucrative as a year's salary, and waiting out non-compete terms woven into their severance packages.

Twenty-eight drugstores in Arkansas are among the 76 locations that will close as part of the cash transaction.

The in-state locations range from Prescott in the southwest to Bentonville in the northwest to Paragould in the northeast. Little Rock is home to five of the 28 USA Drug and Super D locations merging with other Walgreens.

Perkins counts himself among those who intend to make inroads behind the big corporate deal that removed one of the largest regional drugstore chains as a player and merged it with the largest drugstore chain in America.

He is in the process of opening Oak Grove Pharmacy JFK across the street from a USA Drug Express at 5209 JFK Blvd., a leased North Little Rock location that won't be retained by Walgreens.

Perkins is literally positioning his new 2,400-SF store in leased quarters to replace the nearby USA Drug Express in hopes of attracting its former customers. His new drugstore at 5308 JFK Blvd., which will employ two pharmacists, should be open for business by mid-November or early December at the latest.

"As soon as I heard that Walgreens and USA Drug were brokering some kind of deal, I thought more pharmacies would be needed," said Perkins, a pharmacist since 2003. "I knew they would be absorbing those smaller stores down the street from their big boxes."

The USA Drug Express at 5209 JFK is less than a quarter-mile north of a Walgreens at the intersection of McCain and JFK boulevards. Walgreens also operates at the corner of JFK and Kiehl Avenue in Sherwood to the north and at McCain and North Hills Boulevard to the east.

A leased USA Drug location in the Lakewood Village shopping center on McCain near North Hills and the USA Drug Express located in a building owned by the LaFrance family at 1300 E. Kiehl Ave. in Sherwood also will close as part of the Walgreens assimilation.



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