THE BUZZ: Rx for Walgreens headache

By on June 9, 2015

Pharmaceutical giant navigates slippery slope of retreat

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Walgreens trashed the contents of its entire store at the county landfill Thursday. (Photo: Albie Robertson)

Walgreens’ exit from Jackson has been as inglorious as its arrival. From day one, allegations ran the gamut from accusations developers were in bed with city hall, to speculation that engineering studies were poorly done, to plain old resistance against a big box chain muscling its way into Jackson and parking a brightly lit store right across the street from the town’s only mom-and-pop druggist. Walgreens never had a chance.

Last week’s drugstore dump of merchandise that has sat on store shelves for a year was more than some could take. Naysayers and Walgreens’ shoppers alike expressed distaste at the wasteful method corporate leaders chose in disposing of the doomed store’s inventory. As truckloads of packaged food, detergent, paper towels and health and beauty items made their way to the county landfill last Thursday, the question on everyone’s mind was: Why couldn’t this stuff be donated to the needy?

We couldn’t risk it, was the answer from Walgreens national spokesperson Phil Caruso. “It is a shame. It really is. But, out of an overabundance of caution, we did the only thing we felt we could do,” Caruso said.

Walgreens simply had no roadmap for what to do after April 9, 2014. When Town of Jackson officials issued an evacuation order for the Budge Drive area after a landslide threatened structures above and below the butte, Walgreens employees locked the doors behind them and never looked back.

“This was a very unique situation,” Caruso said. “We are talking about a store we had to leave immediately with no warning and were not allowed to return to for over a year. We can’t be sure about any product that was left on the shelves in there. We can’t in good conscience assume responsibility for what happened to any inventory in that store or what condition it might have been in after all that time. We just couldn’t take the risk.”

Caruso said Walgreens has had to close and abandon stores before. He recalled hurricanes, tornados and floods as just a few of the natural disasters that have caused the company to give away stock off the shelves. However, he could not remember a situation where Walgreens employees were not allowed to return to the store to retrieve merchandise for such a long period of time.

Chuck Fidroeff, for one, will take his chances on products unlikely to spoil or be contaminated. The executive director of the Good Samaritan Mission of Jackson Hole pointed out the long shelf life of canned food and the relative safety of a bottle of laundry detergent or a package of toilet paper.

“They are protected by the Good Samaritan Act,” Fidroeff said. “Once we receive donated goods, we assume all liability.”

Caruso said his company has a proven track record of giving back to the communities their estimated 8,400 stores are in. Unsold items are typically returned to a central warehouse and eventually donated to charities.

“In the past five years, Walgreens has donated more than 25 million pounds of merchandise to Feeding America, for example,” he said.

Walgreens ranks in the middle of the pack for social responsibility, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a leading publication tracking nonprofits. The 35th-ranked Fortune 500 corporation was found to be a fairly responsible recycler and donator (though an unnamed former employee told us Walgreens did not recyle any items during its short time in Jackson). Caruso had no explanation for why the company didn’t choose to get out ahead of the decision to trash the Jackson store’s contents by giving town leaders a heads up. Mayor Sara Flitner was one town official upset by the company’s choice and lack of communication.

“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” Flitner said when contacted by The Planet. “That’s a shame.”

Flitner attempted to salvage the discarded merchandise but was too late.

Angle of repose

Budge Drive residents have never rested easy when it comes to the stability of the butte they call home. Terry Ray, former-landowner of the property that became Walgreens’ tomb, received the go-ahead to begin an aggressive 8-foot grading that gnawed into the base of the butte in the spring of 2011. This work was carried out even though a water leak from the Budge property a month earlier had sent 200,000 gallons of the liquid oozing into the hillside.

The Walgreens approval process met with little resistance. Town officials approved the site for a new Walgreens even before they facilitated the sale of it in 2012 to Bencor Inc., Walgreens’ preferred builder. Even as the Budge family reported cracks in their house from what they believed was a hill in flux, Bencor moved in heavy machinery and additional grading was done before construction began in spring 2013.

Despite cries from Jeremy Budge that his house was “moving” atop the butte, Bencor’s engineer Ray Womack signed off on the project as did Jorgensen Associates and town engineer Shawn O’Malley. Walgreens opened to begin the new year of 2014. They never made it to the first quarterly report.

Caruso said his company had no concrete plans to open another store in Jackson but did say the area continues to appeal to Walgreens management. The corporation also has no immediate plans for the disposal of the building or property at 905 West Broadway. Fidroeff suggested the corporate giant could still do the right thing.

“They could give the building to us,” Fidroeff said. “We’d take it, no questions asked, and take our chances with the butte.”

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