Community members in Roxbury are considering filing a lawsuit against Walgreens after the pharmacy chain closed its Warren Street location for the last time Wednesday.
The shutdown follows other Walgreens closures in Mattapan, Hyde Park and a separate Roxbury location since late 2022. The trend is raising concerns that Boston's communities of color are losing important access to health care.
Lawyers from state Attorney General Andrea Campbell's office met with the Rev. Miniard Culpepper of the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church Wednesday afternoon to discuss possible legal action. Culpepper has been working with the group Prophetic Resistance Boston and the Black Men's Political Task Force to fight the Walgreens closure.
Culpepper says that, while Walgreens services have shut down in Boston, they’ve been expanding in Greater Boston suburbs.
“They’re treating the Black and brown communities different from the way they're treating the white community. So if they’re opening up these Walgreens in Malden and Framingham ... with clinics within them, and they're closing down the Walgreens in the Black and brown communities — that, in my opinion, is ‘disparate impact.’”
Equal treatment in public accommodations is guaranteed by Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Culpepper said.
"We continue to do research to determine whether there's a cause of action against Walgreens," he said after the meeting.
"It's a shame," Jennifer Smith-Workman said angrily as she left the store Wednesday afternoon, just before it closed for good. Smith-Workman said she's disabled, and the store was just down the block from her home.
"It's just not fair to us," she said. "Especially to disabled... Did they ask any of the people in the neighborhood? No one came to me and asked me or my husband or anyone in my neighborhood if we needed this location. No one came, and it's a shame."
"And what are these people over here going to do at the dialysis center when they need a prescription or something really urgently?" Smith-Workman said, pointing next door to the pharmacy. "What are they going to do? It's unacceptable."
Smith-Workman blamed politicians, including Mayor Michelle Wu, for allowing the store closure to happen. But she also noted recent comments by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley on the issue.
"Ayanna Pressley, please keep on these people for letting these things in Roxbury close," she said.
Pressley addressed the issue on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
"This closure is a part of a larger trend of abandoning low-income communities, like the previous closures in Mattapan and Hyde Park — both in the Massachusetts 7th [District]," Pressley said. "When a Walgreens leaves a neighborhood, they disrupt the entire community, and they take them and they take with them — baby formula, diapers, asthma inhalers, lifesaving medications and, of course, jobs. These closures are not arbitrary, and they are not innocent. They are life-threatening acts of racial and economic discrimination."
In a joint statement on Wednesday, Pressley was joined by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey in calling out Walgreens.
"We are once again calling on Walgreens to work with us, community residents, and stakeholders in Roxbury to understand, and to adequately respond to, the impacts of this closure, stop the closure of its pharmacies in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and provide resources to the community as they work to fill the gaps this company has left behind," the statement read. "Walgreens must not abandon this community.”
In a written statement Wednesday, a spokesperson said Walgreens appreciates the concern of Pressley, other elected officials and community members regarding the closing of the Roxbury store.
"Our store team is and will continue to assist current patients with the transition of prescriptions," the statement read. "We have waived 1-2 day home delivery fees and are committed to working with individuals to help them sign up for the Walgreens app which includes many other convenient shopping and prescription filling options."
A separate message to customers from Walgreens says the fees for home delivery will be waived for 90 days. That message says prescriptions are being transferred to another Roxbury location on Columbus Avenue.
"It's a little stressful just because this is, like, the most convenient location," Roxbury resident Sky Willis said as she left the store Wednesday. "And they did have one in the Nubian Square area that they also closed a few years back. And then, of course, there was a CVS that wasn't too far from here that they also closed. So it just seems like there's less options and it'll obviously cause more issues in terms of like getting what you need and having that accessibility."
In the minutes before the store closed for good on Wednesday afternoon, Tanisha Brown, who grew up nearby, didn't realize what was about to happen. Speaking out loud to herself as she looked around the store, she asked why most of the shelves were empty. She was saddened to hear the answer.
"That kind of hurts because I've been coming to this store since I was a kid," she said. "I'm pushing 40 years old, and so I've been coming here since I was little. It's kind of sad to hear this, that this is happening."