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Wildfires slow in San Diego

BY Doug Desjardins

SAN DIEGO A change in the weather is helping firefighters contain a dozen blazes still burning in Southern California that have destroyed more than 1,500 homes and displaced close to 1 million residents, prompting retailers to step up relief efforts.

Walgreens donated $60,000 worth of essential items on Tuesday that were shipped to Qualcomm Stadium, near downtown San Diego, where 10,000 evacuees have taken up residence. The retailer donated water, sunscreen, diapers and dust masks for residents who are waiting to return home.

“We’re glad to do all we can to help the people of Southern California who have had to evacuate their homes,” said William Hose, Walgreens vice president of store operations for California.

Rite Aid Tuesday evening announced that its charity arm, the Rite Aid Foundation, was making a $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross to help the victims, families and communities affected by the wildfire devastation in San Diego County. CVS chipped in as well, donating more than $300,000 in supplies, and had established an emergency prescription delivery service. “We are deeply concerned about the impact these fires have had on our customers and employees and we are pleased to aid ongoing relief efforts with these donations,” stated Ronald Day, CVS’ area vice president of California. “We will continue to stay in touch with relief officials and provide any additional assistance that is needed.”

Other retailers have ramped up efforts to help dozens of evacuation centers set up across the county in places like Qualcomm and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores issued a release commending its member companies. “Their response includes continuing pharmacy operations, but also the contributions of financial resources, products and services to the people in the evacuated areas. Their humanitarian efforts are consistent with their day-to-day commitment to patient and customer care, as well as with their swift and vital responses to prior tragedies, including Hurricane Katrina,” president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson stated.

Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill said the company has been shipping products to local relief agencies to help displaced residents. “We’re working with the San Diego Food Bank and sending them products they need to help firefighters and people in temporary shelters,” said Massingill.

Supervalu spokeswoman Haley Meyer said Albertsons stores have been doing the same and donating products “to provide support to evacuation centers as well as on-site support.” Those evacuation centers are slowing starting to empty as the fires are put out and residents return to their homes.

Surprisingly, retailers have been able to conduct business as usual despite the mass evacuations. Walgreens reported that none of its stores were closed and others like Costco reported having to just shut down one store for just a few hours. Supervalu said that it had to close two Albertsons stores during the height of the fires Tuesday and Safeway reported that a “handful of stores” were forced to close but that most are now open.

But residents may be dealing with another problem later in the week. Shifting winds are expected to blow much of the smoke and ash carried out over the Pacific Ocean on Monday and Tuesday back onshore. Emergency rooms across the county are already dealing with a growing number of patients reporting respiratory problems from smoke that’s been as thick as fog in some areas.

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Former NACDS counsel Kocot to join law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal

BY Drew Buono

WASHINGTON Law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP has announced the S. Lawrence Kocot has joined its national Health Care Group as senior counsel in its Washington, D.C., office.

Kocot, the former senior advisor to the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, practice focuses on strategic business advice, public law, and policy and health care regulatory issues.

While at CMS, Kocot served as a member of the senior executive team responsible for managing policy and operations for the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Programs and the 92 million people they serve.  He also was a key member of the management staff responsible for the launch of the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Part D) and led several high profile initiatives, including pharmaceutical delivery in disaster response.

Previously, he was senior vice president and general counsel at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, where he was responsible for all legal matters and represented the industry to Congress, state legislatures and state and federal regulatory agencies.

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Walgreens taps local vendors for Hawaii store opening

BY Jim Frederick

HONOLULU As it gears up for the grand opening of its first Hawaii store, Walgreen Co. said it is reaching out to dozens of local vendors to supply the store, set to open Nov. 1 on the site of a former Tower Records outlet on busy Kapiolani Boulevard in this bustling metro market.

Dana Psomas, district manager for the company’s new Hawaii operation, said Walgreens is setting up accounts with more than 50 local suppliers to help create a shopping environment that caters to the specific tastes of Hawaiian consumers. “We’re committed to offering a broad selection of local products so that from the first day, our customers feel at home in our stores,” said Psomas. “We’re especially proud to have so many local suppliers represented in a store smaller than our typical size.

“We’ve learned from our vendors what is important to Hawaii’s customers, and that’s reflected in our merchandise offerings.”

Those offerings will go beyond products that are traditionally supplied locally, such as bread, dairy products, soft drinks and water, according to Walgreens. The company is also using local suppliers for product categories that include candy, local snacks, grocery items, automotive needs, souvenirs and greeting cards.

“Being new to the market, their assistance is invaluable to us,” said the DM. “We want to…merchandise our stores to the local community, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Walgreens plans to open three additional Hawaii stores in the second half of 2008 and eventually operate 25-30 stores across the state.

Marking another milestone, Walgreens will stage the grand opening of its 6,000th drug store Wednesday in New Orleans. The store, located in the city’s historic Carrollton neighborhood, is the company’s 48th unit in New Orleans, and marks an ongoing comeback for both the local Walgreens operation and the city itself following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“And the growth will continue,” noted Walgreens in a statement. “By the end of next year, Walgreens will have more stores in the New Orleans metro area than it did prior to…Katrina.”

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