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Bi-Mart's walk-up pharmacy is set to close Nov. 11, 2021, after 34 years in operation in La Grande.

LA GRANDE — Four years ago Heather Rekow of La Grande was stunned.

Rekow was at the pharmacy at La Grande’s Bi-Mart store to pick up a prescription for an urgent health issue when she saw her bill — one for an eye-popping unexpected $500.

“I could not believe it,” she said.

Rekow needed the medication immediately but did not feel she had the background needed to call her insurance company in an attempt to get it to cover a portion of the expense. Then a Bi-Mart pharmacist came to the rescue. The pharmacist volunteered to make the call and after a few minutes managed to get Rekow’s insurance company to bring her share of the bill down to $50.

Rekow was thankful three times over, because her prescription called for two refills. This meant the total cost of her prescription had been trimmed from $1,500 to $150.

“She saved me $1,350,” Rekow said.

Despite such service Rekow is now switching to another local pharmacy. She has no choice as La Grande’s Bi-Mart pharmacy is set to close Nov. 11, ending a 34-year run that started in November 1987 when Bi-Mart opened in La Grande. The location has had a pharmacy throughout its history.

The pharmacy is the casualty of a sale involving the Bi-Mart Corporation and Walgreens, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains. Walgreens, as part of the purchase agreement, will buy all of Bi-Mart’s pharmacies. Walgreens will operate many of Bi-Mart’s already existing pharmacies, but not at some stores, including La Grande’s, according to Don Leber, Bi-Mart president of marketing and advertising.

News of the upcoming closure is not making pharmacy patients like Rekow happy.

“I’m really going to miss it,” she said.

Rekow hopes that her next pharmacy will make her feel as comfortable as the staff at Bi-Mart’s does. Rekow has been picking up prescriptions for herself and her family for several years at Bi-Mart.

“Whenever I come in they ask, ‘Who is it for this time?’ I really like the familiarity,” Rekow said.

Doug Elliott of La Grande, another Bi-Mart pharmacy customer, also will miss the pharmacy’s personal touch.

“I don’t like it,” he said of the upcoming closure. “I really like the people who work there.”

Walgreens will acquire pharmacy patient prescription files and related inventory of 56 Bi-Mart pharmacies located across Oregon, Idaho and Washington as part of the purchase agreement with the Bi-Mart Corporation. Leber said that because there is not a Walgreens near La Grande, any patient who wants to get their pharmaceuticals from Walgreens without leaving town will have to do so through its mail service.

The closest Walgreens to Union County are in Walla Walla, an 83-mile drive from La Grande, and Ontario, which is 116 miles away by motor vehicle.

Leber said that Bi-Mart pharmacy patients who want to be served by a local pharmacy should contact the pharmacy and arrange to have their records sent to it.

Leber said that pharmacy techs will be able to continue working at Bi-Mart for the same wages they now receive. Bi-Mart’s pharmacy assistants and pharmacists, Leber said, will be given the opportunity to be interviewed for jobs at Walgreens.

Bi-Mart, in an Oct. 17 statement to The Oregonian, said the corporation is getting out of the pharmacy business because it is becoming unfeasible to operate its pharmacies profitably within a chain of stores its size. The statement cited rising prescription medication costs, smaller insurance reimbursements and the new Oregon Corporate Activity Tax among the reasons it is getting harder to run its pharmacies profitably. The statement noted that the CAT, which took effect in 2020, is taxing the corporation not just on profits but also receipts.

“Unchanged, the cost of pharmacy operations would threaten our business throughout the Northwest. Though difficult, we know that this is the right decision for the future of Bi-Mart,” the statement said.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.{div id=”highlighter--hover-tools” style=”display: none;”} {/div}

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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