A Walgreens store in Roxbury will remain open until the end of the month instead of closing as originally planned on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Advocates say that’s a small victory in a grassroots battle to fight the latest in a series of store closures across Boston’s communities of color.
After pharmacy closures in Mattapan, Hyde Park and Lower Roxbury since November 2022, the 416 Warren St. location has become a final battleground for Communities of Color for Health Equity, a coalition of residents led by Rev. Miniard Culpepper of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church and Prophetic Resistance Boston.
“It's a small victory, but we’re not finished fighting,” Culpepper said. “When the one in Mattapan closed, those customers came to Warren Street. When they closed the Geneva Ave. location, those customers came too. Now there are lines all the way around the inside of the store, and it’s had a crippling effect on our community.”
Walgreens operates 18 locations across Boston, but only stores in Mattapan, Roxbury and Hyde Park have closed since the company began shutting down pharmacies.
“I can't say specifically why they identify the Black and Brown community, but when you have these kinds of closures, there’s implicit bias, and many times there is institutional racism,” Culpepper said. “I can say that they could have done a better job, not just notifying folks, but to involve us in their realignment. We’re talking about corporate greed here, profit over people.”
Walgreens spokesperson Samantha Stansberry said in a statement to GBH News that the company decided to keep the Roxbury store open longer after hearing the community’s concerns.
“We remain committed to our patients in the Roxbury community and want to help them through this transition,” she said.
Patient prescription files will automatically transfer to a Walgreens location roughly a mile away, Stansberry said, adding that the company previously announced plans to close 200 locations across the country this year.
“When faced with the difficult decision to close a location, several factors are taken into account,” she said, “including our existing footprint of stores, dynamics of the local market, and changes in the buying habits of our patients and customers, among other reasons.”
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Residents — particularly elderly and disabled people living across the street at the Martin Luther King Towers apartment complex — depend on the proximity and convenience of the Warren Street location, Culpepper said.
“This is a statewide community effort to make sure that our seniors, our most vulnerable, are taken care of,” he said.
Danielle Williams, a customer and Walgreens patient who leads Prophetic Resistance along with Culpepper, says the closure will limit access to healthcare, particularly for senior citizens and those with disabilities living in the neighborhood.
“The next pharmacy is a mile away … you have folks with physical challenges and folks living in senior housing, just a block away, who have relied on picking up their life-saving medication here, and now they have a mile to go,” Williams said. “This is a healthcare crisis. When we talk about healthcare equity, and you have a Walgreens that’s closing in a neighborhood with high rates of diabetes, asthma and other medical issues, it’s problematic.”
Black and Hispanic residents in Massachusetts find it harder to access medical appointments, pay medical bills and access health coverage than their white counterparts, according to a 2021 report from the Center for Health Information and Analysis, an independent state agency that tracks health data. Among residents with low family incomes, 78% of Black residents reported having a year or more of continuous health insurance, compared to 92% of white residents, according to the report.
Williams and Culpepper’s grassroots fight has garnered broader support from state and city officials. On Friday, Sen. Ed Markey joined state and city leaders and community members for a protest outside the Warren Street store, urging the company to reconsider the closure.
“We’re going to keep fighting. Walgreens is in for a battle,” Markey said. “Walgreens executives are sitting in their offices drawing up spreadsheets about what stores to close. They are making the cold calculation that the cost to Black and Brown lives is worth closing the store.”
City Council President Ruthzee Louijeune said residents need access to pharmacies for everything from groceries to medications to vaccines, and the recent closures have hurt the local community.
“This is a crisis,” she said. “We are at a crisis point in our communities where we are depriving Black and Brown communities access to adequate health care.”
Last year, City Councilors Tania Fernandes Anderson and Brian Worrell filed a resolution calling on the drugstore giant to postpone closures on all Boston locations.
“This is not just about Walgreens,” Worrell said to the crowd on Friday. “It's about the larger fight for equity, justice and access to quality health care. And it's about ensuring that our voices are heard and our needs are met.”
Though the resolution stalled in committee, Fernandes Anderson, Louijeune and other Boston City Council members say they plan to request a council hearing to hear from the community and hold Walgreens accountable.
“We are urging Walgreens to rethink their plans on profiting from Black and Brown communities and consider ways to make it more equitable by keeping this location open,” Fernandes Anderson said at the protest Friday. “We do not accept this.”