Longtime family pharmacy in Tacoma to face competition from big-name chain

Nearly 90 years old, Rankos' drug store still the place to be

News that a chain store would be opening within blocks of the longtime Stadium neighborhood icon has some concerned it might hurt the locally owned business.
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News that a chain store would be opening within blocks of the longtime Stadium neighborhood icon has some concerned it might hurt the locally owned business.

A new type of pharmacy could open in December in Tacoma’s Stadium District.

The Walgreens spinoff, called Community, A Walgreens Pharmacy, will be opening at 1 N. Tacoma Ave., company spokesman Scott Goldberg said.

It will use a different model from a typical Walgreens store. Those outlets are about 14,400 square feet. The storefront pharmacy in the Stadium District will be 1,879 square feet in a street-level unit that once was a Coldwell Banker office.

The specialty pharmacy will be the second of its kind in the state. The first opened in Seattle last year, Goldberg said.

“They don’t have a front end, so you don’t go there to get your gum or shampoo or shaving cream,” Goldberg said of the store. “They are specialty pharmacies that cater to patients who have complex, chronic diseases.”

The store will serve patients with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, transplants, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis, Goldberg said.

The Walgreens offshoot will be a block away from Stadium District stable Rankos’ Stadium Pharmacy.

Rankos’ has served Tacoma residents for more than 90 years, first on K Street and then at its current location at North Tacoma Avenue and North First Street.

Liz Rankos is a third-generation pharmacist for Rankos’.

“In first grade, I realized I loved the pharmacy,” said Rankos, who recalls being dropped off at the store after school. As she grew up she took on responsibilities that included bookkeeping and filing taxes.

The Rankos family is taking the news of new competition in stride, but there is an undercurrent of concern.

“I talked with other pharmacies and their business went up,” said Deanna Rankos, Liz Rankos’ mother, who works in the store.

She does have some trepidation about the competition.

“We hate to see it come in,” she said.

Liz Rankos said she’s not sure how the new pharmacy will affect her business.

“There is some definite overlap there,” she said of patients the Walgreens outlet will serve. She estimated 3 percent of Rankos’ patients receive medications that would be served by the Walgreens specialty pharmacy.

She plans to expand services in the Rankos’ store, with possible pill compounding or expanded veterinary medications. Rankos’ also is among several pharmacies that offer naloxone, a drug that can halt an opioid overdose.

Liz Rankos said her pharmacy specializes in addiction medication management, and will train people how to use naloxone, as well as a menu of other services, such as home drug delivery and at-home medication reviews.

The pharmacy also has a post office and a large gift shop, offerings that won’t be available at the Walgreens location.

“I’m not worried because we have such loyal customers,” Liz Rankos said. “We will make this store as good as it can be. There are not a lot of independent pharmacies, but we work together.”

Nationally, the number of independent pharmacies has fallen in recent years. In 2008, there were 22,728; last year the number dropped to 22,160, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Independent pharmacies face increasing competition from outlets such as Walgreens, one of the largest drug store chains in the country. It has more than 8,000 stores — including 135 in Washington — in all 50 states and several U.S. territories

Among the strengths of national chains are the prices for prescription drugs they can negotiate with insurance companies.

Some insurance plans tell customers they must use specific pharmacies — and sometimes independents are left out, said Kirk Heinz, who owns three Kirks Pharmacy stores in Pierce County.

“When you look at the chains and the big box stores, they can compete differently with the insurance plans,” Heinz said. “The contracts they are offered are different.”

Independent pharmacies compete with sprawling companies with a personal touch, he said.

“All we can compete on is customer service,” Heinz said. “We try our hardest to provide the best care we can for our patients.”

As far as the effect the new Walgreens specialty pharmacy will have on Rankos’, “It’s probably going to adversely affect her business,” Heinz said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports