After months of pandemic-related financial strain and years of uncertainty over its future, Bartell Drugs, one of the oldest companies in Washington state and one of the most familiar names in the Seattle business community, is being sold.
The 67-store regional drugstore chain, which has been owned by the same family since its founding in Seattle’s Central District in 1890, will be acquired by Rite Aid for $95 million, the companies announced Wednesday.
“We felt that this was the only answer,” said George D. Bartell, co-owner and chairman of the company his grandfather, George H. Bartell Sr., founded 130 years ago. “It was getting more difficult for regional operators to compete in the market.”
Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid, which has about 2,500 stores in 19 states, including 69 in and around Seattle, will keep the Bartell name on the stores. It disclosed no plans to close stores or cut any of Bartell’s about 1,600 retail staff. The sale is expected to close in December.
Bartell’s presence across neighborhoods was a big part of the attraction, said Heyward Donigan, Rite Aid president and chief executive officer.
“That’s kind of who we want to be, more and more, is your local neighborhood pharmacy,” said Donigan, adding that Bartell has been successful reaching demographic groups, including young middle-income mothers, that Rite Aid was particularly interested in.
“Together, this is going to be a terrific combination,” Donigan said.
News of the sale, or of the business realities behind it, may come as a surprise to many of Bartell’s customers. The privately held company has shared little financial data previously and outwardly appeared to be navigating the economic storms that have harried many brick-and-mortar firms. It opened a new site, in Belltown, as recently as 2019, a year it generated $550 million in sales.