Bartell Drugs was founded in 1890, in Seattle’s Central District. That first store, opened by ambitious 21-year-old George Bartell Sr, became 69 stores over the ensuing 130 years, spread across three Washington counties. Today, George Bartell III and his sister Jean Barber nee Bartell are both chairmen of the company. The business has been kept tightly in the family almost as long – almost exactly as long – as Washington has been a state.

But big changes are on the way.

According to a statement by Bartell CEO Kathi Lentzch, the company is being sold to Rite Aid, in a deal expected to close sometime in December.

Rite Aid, which is based in Pennsylvania and owns some 2,500 stores across the country, does not intend to dissolve the Bartell Drugs brand, which was part of a factor in why Bartell approached them to buy.

“When [the pandemic] hit, it made us realize that we needed to look at other ways to ensure our future was going to be here for Seattle,” Lentzsch in her statement. “We have experienced changes in the pharmacy industry, as everybody’s aware of what’s going on with health care. … And it was just one more thing, and we decided we had to figure out how to continue.”

For Rite Aid, the acquisition was about gaining a stronger foothold in Washington, including the large new distribution center that Bartell just built in Des Moines.

“It’s very, was very clear to us that this was one of the most important growth markets for us,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid. “It’s a fit of values, it’s a fit of the right market and it’s a fit of the right kind of merchandising strategies. That’s one of the main reasons also that we don’t want to change the brand.”

While specifics have yet to be hammered out, current estimates indicate that the purchase will impact perhaps 70 jobs at Bartell Drugs, exclusively at the corporate level where consolidation will have to happen.

Photo by VDB Photos /