A pharmacy sign outside the Foodland IGA will soon disappear as the pharmacy inside is closing as of Wednesday, June 1, due to the inability to hire a new pharmacist. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A pharmacy sign outside the Foodland IGA will soon disappear as the pharmacy inside is closing as of Wednesday, June 1, due to the inability to hire a new pharmacist. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Pharmacy at Foodland closing June 1

Owner says months-long effort to hire new pharmacist has been unsuccessful.

The pharmacy inside Foodland IGA is closing June 1, six years after its debut, because of the inability to find a new pharmacist, according to its owner.

Ron’s Apothecary Shoppe opened the pharmacy in the supermarket, the second in downtown Juneau, in March of 2016 as a second outlet for the company. But Scott Watts, who with his wife Gretchen owns the pharmacies, said he’s been trying to replace the departing pharmacist at the downtown store for several months without success.

“It wasn’t our optimal choice to do this, but our hand was forced at this point,” he said Friday. “I’d rather excel at the service in one store than be too shorthanded and not be able to provide good service at two stores.”

Both outlets were dealing with a high volume of inquiries by mid-morning Friday after the closing was announced at the pharmacy’s website and in a recorded message greeting all callers. The phone recording announced the closure as indefinite and Watts said it is possible he would reopen the location if a qualified pharmacist can be hired.

“We’d love to have it open, so that’s always an option,” he said.

Customers can continue picking up prescriptions at the downtown location through Tuesday, and the valley location at the Mendenhall Mall afterward. Watts said the pharmacy will retain the prescription profiles of all customers at the valley location “so those prescriptions can be filled at the pharmacy of their choice.”

Watts said he told Foodland IGA about the planned closure last week. Phone inquiries by the Juneau Empire to store management about whether another operator might be sought for the pharmacy space were not immediately returned Friday.

The closure of the store’s pharmacy as of next Wednesday means Juneau Drug will be the only pharmacy in the downtown area. Brenda Lamas, the store’s manager, said at 11 a.m. Friday – two hours after the pharmacy opened – news of the Foodland closure was resulting in a multitude of inquiries.

“I guess this really has impacted us because there are a lot of transfer requests from Juneau IGA to us,” she said.

Lamas said current staffing at her store should be able to handle a large influx of customers should that occur.

Hiring a qualified pharmacist, getting them licensed in Alaska and bringing them to Juneau may be somewhat more complex than many Lower 48 communities, but hiring shortages have been reported in other states and nationally in recent months due to factors including low wages and the broader COVID-19 labor shortage.

Watts, who in 2016 when he opened the Foodland outlet said he hoped to restore the service available until a previous operator in that space departed four years earlier, said Friday the primary feedback he’s getting from customers so far about the closure is disappointment, a sentiment he shares.

“We were looking for options until the last minute,” he said.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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