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Thrifty White Drug planning to close one of its Bemidji stores

The Thrifty White Drug Store located at 225 Paul Bunyan Drive NW will close its doors Feb. 19. The Thrifty White store located inside Marketplace Foods will remain open. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

As of Feb. 20, Thrifty White Drug Store customers will have only one location available to them.

Thrifty White, located at 225 Paul Bunyan Drive NW, will close its doors Feb. 19, but its location inside Marketplace Foods, 2000 Paul Bunyan Drive NW, will remain open with expanded store hours.

The decision to close one of the stores came as the company's building lease was set to expire, said Dave Reuter, Thrifty White's executive vice president of personnel.

"We looked at the market and reassessed if we could keep two stores operating within a mile of each other," he said. "We decided it made sense to combine both stores into one location."

Roughly half of the store's 18 employees will be transferred to the remaining store location, Reuter said. The store's pharmacist and most of the pharmacy staff will be among those transferred.

Employees working in the areas of health and beauty and giftware products may end up losing their job, Reuter said, because the remaining store location will not sell them.

"It will certainly be less convenient for customers who like the larger space we had, but we are working to make the transition as seamless as possible," Reuter said.

All pharmacy patient files will be electronically transferred to the remaining store location, he said.

"Patients do not need to do anything," Reuter added. "They can show up Feb. 20 and all their records will be there."

Prescription deliveries and nursing home services will continue to be offered, Reuter said. The company also has plans to remodel the remaining store's pharmacy.

Patients will receive a letter in the mail this week explaining the situation, Reuter said.

In December, Pamida, a longtime tenant of downtown Bemidji, took steps to close its doors. A store official said the company's decision to close the store was, in part, because of competition among other retail stores.

Pamida's pharmacy was reportedly losing money and was eventually bought out by Walgreens.

Reuter said like other pharmacies, Thrifty White Drug Store has struggled to overcome prescription reimbursements being continually cut.

He said pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, make it difficult for pharmacies to make money off prescriptions. PBMs act as third-party administrators between those who pay for drugs and drug makers and pharmacies. They generally make money through service fees from contracting with pharmacies and negotiating discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers.

"(PBM officials) argue they are doing everyone a favor by saving the system money, but they are cutting out higher reimbursements to the point, in this case, where it ends up costing jobs because you can't fill prescriptions for that price," he said. "In some cases we lose money on certain prescriptions."

Reuter said two of the three largest PBMs in the country own 60 percent of all prescriptions in the nation. As of recent he said he has heard a merger is being proposed between largest and third largest PBM.

"They're coming back year after year and paying less to fill a prescription," he said. "At one point, we could make it work with two stores together in one community, but as reimbursements were being cut we couldn't afford to do business out of two locations. It forces us to make difficult decisions like this."