By Katie Nielsen

OAKLAND (KPIX) – City leaders in Oakland are trying to keep a Walgreens at 81st and International from closing, saying if it does, residents in the area will be left in a pharmacy desert while in the middle of a pandemic.

“Honestly I can’t think of a closer pharmacy for people to go and get those medications that they need. All the way to High Street? That’s pretty far,” says Mary Wyatt, an Oakland native.

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There is a sign near the street that says “Now Hiring” but another much smaller one on the automatic sliding doors saying the location is closing on July 29th and all prescriptions will be transferred to another store 2 miles away.

That’s exactly why Oakland City Councilmember Loren Taylor, who represents the area, says the city is in contact with Walgreens asking the pharmacy chain to reconsider.

“The Walgreens on 81st in my district is a lifeblood for neighbors around there,” says Taylor.

Taylor says long-standing equity issues have impacted access to health care for people who live in east Oakland and many residents who rely on this location are already dealing with chronic health conditions, may be disabled, and often don’t have easy access to transportation.

“If you have to take two buses to get to the nearest pharmacy, then that increases the likelihood of noncompliance, increases the risk that these chronic diseases get out of control,” says Councilmember Taylor.

Walgreens says despite the pleas from city leaders and an online petition signed by more than 2,500 people, the store will close as scheduled July 29th. Here is their full statement to KPIX 5:

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“The store’s lease is expiring soon and we have made the decision to close at the end of the month in part due to ongoing organized retail crime that continues to be a challenge for retailers.

While closing any store is a difficult decision, our team members at this location will remain employed in other stores. Next month we plan to reopen the our Oakland store located at 14th and Broadway, which has undergone extensive repairs from the significant damage incurred last summer.

When the store on International Blvd. closes, prescription files will automatically transfer to the Walgreens located at 5809 Foothill Blvd., in Oakland. We encourage our patients to speak with the pharmacy team on available services to best meet their prescription needs, including free prescription delivery and 90-day refill options or a Save-a-Trip refill program, which can consolidate refills for patients on multiple prescriptions to a single day.”

For months, Walgreens has been paying for off-duty Oakland police officers to provide security at all locations in the city, including the one on 81st and International.

“We should have been able to at least have had a conversation with Walgreens prior to their decision so we could solution around the challenges that they face,” says Councilmember Taylor.

Some people who live nearby say the store closing was inevitable.

“I mean, this was in the neighborhood, but look what happened. They stole a lot of stuff from there, ok? I don’t know. Just look around. So much stuff is happening here in Oakland, you know,” says Martha Stolaroff, who grew up in Oakland.

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“Is it worth saving it for the people that truly need it? It might seem like a convenience store to you guys, but what are they going to do? Where are they going to go?” asks Wyatt.