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'Too much competition' forcing Pamida to close doors in Bemidji

Pamida plans to close doors by Feb. 28. Pioneer file/Steve Wagner

After 30-plus years, store readies for liquidation sale

A longtime tenant of downtown Bemidji has contacted city officials about what formal steps are needed to close its doors and promote a liquidation sale.

Pamida, 200 Paul Bunyan Drive, plans to close its doors by Feb. 28.

"They've been here a long time," Bemidji City Manager John Chattin said Wednesday. "Any time you have a vacant building, especially in a prominent position, it creates a perception you don't want to create."

Andrew Mack, assistant planner for the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, said a Pamida official contacted a city building officials and then him about sign permits required for store sales.

There are a number of options, but Mack said he needed to know more about Pamida's plans.

Mike Parson, assistant store manager at the Bemidji Pamida, said the store's 20 employees, including six in the pharmacy, took the news hard.

"But what can you expect?" Parson said.

"They told us it wasn't feasible (to stay open)," he said. "Too much competition."

Last week, a pharmacy sign announced Walgreens purchased patient records, which will be transferred Dec. 15. Pamida customers can choose to fill prescriptions at Walgreens or a pharmacy of their choosing.

Pamida has been in Bemidji since at least 1979, but competition from Walmart and Walgreens took its toll. And while Pamida's pharmacy delivered prescriptions for free, Parson said $4 prescriptions at Walmart hurt business.

"Pharmacy carried us and the pharmacy started losing money," he said. "It's going to be another empty building downtown. It's sad."

In recent years, Pamida also has closed stores in Park Rapids, Crookston, Wadena and Detroit Lakes.

Bemidji Area Farmers Market has rented space outside Pamida for more than 20 years, and the store closing leaves the market in limbo for next year, said Robyn Hede, treasurer and board member for market.

Hede said she had heard Pamida would close, but hadn't confirmed it personally.

"We hope we can stay," Hede said. "We do well there. People are used to us being there."

Still, the store closing isn't surprising to Hede.

"We've known for years that Pamida might close," she said. "We will probably take a hit."

Hede said she hopes the property owner, David Bolger of Ridgewood, N.J., will rent space to keep the market in its current location.

Bolger, a businessman and philanthropist, owns the property and leases it to Pamida. He wasn't available for comment Wednesday.

However, J.T. Bolger, president of Bolger and Co. Inc., said he hadn't heard about the closing. Pamida, he said, is under a long-term lease for the property and referred additional questions to Pamida.

Jessica Gibbons, a marketing communications manager for the Illinois-based Pamida, did not return a call seeking comment.

In addition to the farmers market, Chattin said he hopes to find out what will happen with the property.

"It will be interesting to see the owner's intent," Chattin said.

The area's long-range development plan calls for green space on the lot where Pamida now sits.

"Who can go in there?" said Chattin, responding to what might be a good fit for the property. "They have limited parking."

In 2009, Bolger's request to subdivide the property was approved, allowing for construction of a 6,048-square-foot multi-tenant retail center, including Subway.

Chattin said the best-case scenario would be the city buying the property and razing the building.

Last week, Robert Elfinger, a corporate spokesman for Walgreens, said his company purchased Pamida's pharmacy records to expand its market in north central Minnesota. Walgreens operates more than 7,700 drug stores nationwide.

Pamida, based in Omaha, Neb., serves more than 175 communities in 17 states. It operates 18 stores in Minnesota.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104