Activists protest Osco Drug closure

A petition began a week ago to keep the store open.
Wednesday, October 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:55 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Across the empty lot next to Osco Drug, a well-worn footpath in the grass marks the shortest route from the safest place to cross Providence Road to the store’s parking lot. But only a walker — someone from the neighborhood — would ever notice it.

Some of the people who’ve walked that path have signed a petition registering their displeasure over the plan to close the store Oct. 28.

Mike Bishop, 38, who gets around in a motorized wheelchair, began the petition drive last week to try and keep the store open. Osco drug has been selling an eclectic mixture of groceries, cosmetics, build-it-yourself furniture, clothing and toys for the past 35 years.

The closing of the store means a loss of autonomy for Bishop. From his home in Paquin Towers near the MU campus, he can make it to Osco on his own in 20 minutes. He has an in-home assistant who can run errands for him, but he relishes the fact that for years there has been no need to ask for help. “I like shopping by myself,” he said.

Bishop said he is unsure where he will shop once the store closes. Wherever he goes, he will have to use public transportation, such as Paratransit, which costs $1 a ride. He said a bus ride can be a complicated affair for somebody in a wheelchair.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ve got to get enough nerve to ride to Wal-Mart,” he said.

Many of the people who have signed the petition — which has about 50 names so far — are Paquin Towers residents who will find themselves in a similar predicament. The apartment building is heavily populated by seniors and physically and mentally disabled residents.

Like countless other Osco regulars, Bishop said he will also miss his relationship with the store’s employees.

“There are so many nice people,” he said. “They know me by name and I know them. That’s what’s neat.”

He said he will continue to ask all the people he come in contact with to add their names to the petition.

Another Columbia resident, Sally Winters, has been spurred to a different kind of action by the Osco closing. Last week, at a speech on the MU campus by “Nickel and Dimed” author Barbara Ehrenreich, she called on the audience of roughly 1,600 to boycott all properties owned by Stan Kroenke and his partners in the TKG real estate group.

Kroenke bought the Osco property in April. Osco’s parent company, Albertson’s Inc., said the store will close because it was unable to come to terms on a lease agreement.

Winters, a clinical social worker and Osco regular, saw those events as a deliberate attempt to push Osco out of the market by asking for high rent. She had already been concerned with the increasing amount of Columbia land owned by the developers, she said, but she saw Osco as a call to action.

“People say they like the idea, but I don’t know how many will follow through,” she said. “It would mean a great deal of inconvenience for everyone because they own so much.”

Craig Van Matre, an attorney for Kroenke, said he was unaware of any boycott attempt. He said he was familiar with the lease negotiations and that Albertsons was simply unwilling to pay fair market value for the space.

“To say that they were forced out is grossly unfair,” Van Matre said.

Of all interested community members, employees may feel the most immediate effects when Osco is gone. During the noon rush Tuesday, customers asked about the fate of the store. Very often, the questions were about the employees themselves and their own work plans. Some were candid with customers, talking about retirement or admitting that they simply did not know what the future held.

Speaking to the media, however, was out of the question, even for store managers.

“They told us we’re not allowed,” one employee said Tuesday.

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