How Rite Aid Closures Could Affect Food Access

As bankruptcy looms for Rite Aid, many could lose their nearest store for essentials.

Rite Aid, a nationwide drug store chain primarily located on the east and west coasts, plans to significantly reduce its footprint as it enters into bankruptcy, The Wall Street Journal reports. The chain has more than $3.3 billion in debt and a number of federal lawsuits against it for allegedly oversupplying opioids to the public. But for better or for worse, it's also where a sizable portion of Americans purchase food every day.

Rite Aid competes with other major retailers like CVS and Walgreens, and like those competitors, in addition to providing pharmacy services Rite Aid offers limited grocery staples, snacks, and beverages. The convenience chain has more than 2,100 locations nationwide and plans to close 400 to 500 as part of its bankruptcy plan. The remaining locations will either be sold or taken over by creditors.

How this wave of store closures could affect the surrounding communities is unclear, especially since we don't yet know which locations will be shut down and which will be sold off. However, the complete elimination of this many convenience stores does have the unfortunate potential to worsen the already prevalent issue of food deserts in the United States.

NPR reports, based on USDA data, that there are 76 counties throughout the U.S. that lack any grocery store whatsoever. These food deserts often exist in low-income areas with unreliable transportation to the nearest store that carries nutritious, affordable food. As a more accessible option for many, stores like Rite Aid often accept SNAP benefits, otherwise known as food stamps. And although these chains are not technically grocery stores, the products they provide are essential and can often bridge the gap for those who can't easily access full supermarkets.

Rite Aid's presence has been dwindling for years. Supermarket News reports the retailer experienced a net loss of $306.7 million in the first quarter of 2023, versus the $110.2 million net loss it had in the first quarter of 2022. Plus, Rite Aid's revenues for the first quarter of 2023 came in at $5.65 billion, about $350 million less than the same period last year. Rite Aid already shutdown 25 of its store locations earlier this year and has closed 180 since 2021.

The plans to shut down stores and sell off others are preemptive moves to the chain's imminent bankruptcy filing. Anyone who relies on this chain for their essentials deserves something accessible and affordable in its stead.