I’ve been getting meds at Bartell Drugs for years. At least since the 1960s. I originally gravitated to the triangular two-story store that was at 4th and Pine in what is now Westlake Park. Being a teenager, what “meds” meant to me was mostly just aspirin and allergy medicine. The big draw of that store was the counter on the second floor where my friends and I ate corn dogs while watching shoppers outside. Eventually that store was closed, and I switched to the 3rd and Union store.
Those days my teenage friends and I mostly hung out between 1st and 4th Avenues with occasional forays into the Pike Place Market. We weren’t comfortable along 5th Ave or 6th and 7th. We felt like we were among a higher class there. We didn’t belong.
Our turf was also mostly limited to between Stewart and Yesler. South of Yesler held little interest, as it was mostly boarded up. North of Stewart was starting to get upper class again — although the G.O. Guy store just south of Yesler was attractive because we knew about the 1898 shootout there.
Of course the boundaries of our turf morphed due to the ’62 Seattle World’s Fair.
Then, when I started at the U of W in 1967, my friends and I split up (owing to irreconcilable differences) while I commuted every day to the U District and the U. So my Bartell’s drug store of choice switched to the 45th and U Way store.
Then I went to graduate school for about six years and ended up in Switzerland and New Jersey before returning to Seattle for good the day before Mt. St. Helens blew. I hung out a little more in the U District, with new friends, but pretty soon I was living back at my childhood house on Beacon Hill, and when I needed meds I took a bus downtown back to my precious 3rd and Union Bartell’s store.
I was married by then, and the next thing I knew I was divorced, and then I was living in the U District again and going to the 45th and U Way store, and then I had to move downtown and voila! I was back at the 3rd and Union store again. The store attracted me like a bluefly to a picnic burger.
The game of musical Bartell’s stores appeared to end there. Downtown was a Ride-Free Zone so no matter where I was living downtown I got in the habit of taking a bus to 3rd and Union. When the Ride-Free Zone ended, my habit didn’t.
So by the time I was living in the International District, I was still getting my meds at the 3rd and Union Bartell’s. By then, I was old and had real, actual, old-people prescription drugs to pick up monthly.
I’m a little confused as to the time-line after that, but I believe the Bartell’s store at 3rd and Union closed before Rite Aid bought out the whole chain. Fortunately, a new store had opened three blocks from me, at 4th and Jackson. But the news of the purchase by Rite Aid worried me.
That happened during the pandemic, and already the new store was dealing with major shortages. I got my meds there for only two years before Rite Aid closed the store.
OK, no problem, there was a Bartell’s next to the Central Library at 4th and Madison. I’d go there.
Rite Aid closed that one on me within a year. I felt like the mole in a game of Whack-a-Mole.
Since buying the Bartell’s chain, Rite Aid has closed nine, leaving 58. So far. I can’t help but speculate that the closings were intended from the outset. The most recent closure was in Lynnwood. Go ahead. Try and tell me that wasn’t planned.
When the purchase was announced, Rite Aid promised it would leave the Bartell’s brand intact, but leaving only 58 out of 67 stores intact seems a bit of a cheat in that regard. That’s really a 13% loss of brand name, when you get down to it.
I have retreated to my final Bartell’s at 5th and Olive. This will be my last stand, I will retreat for forever no more.
If this rock sinks, I will switch to Walgreens.
Read more of the Sept. 20-26, 2023 issue.