The CVS at Target on University Avenue in Southwest Berkeley. Credit: Google Maps

Thursday wasn’t a great day for anyone trying to pick up a prescription from the CVS pharmacy inside the Target store on University Avenue.

The pharmacy was — unexpectedly — shut tight.

And, according to social media posts as well as readers getting in touch with Berkeleyside, Wednesday wasn’t much better. Customers reported long lines at the CVS/Target pharmacy — so long that some people gave up and hustled to find another place to fill their order.

What’s going on, readers asked? Was it a staff strike, or COVID-related staff shortages, or yet another permanent pharmacy closing — such as the CVS on Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way, the Walgreens on Shattuck in North Berkeley, and the pharmacy in the Walgreens on Gilman Street and San Pablo Avenue?

None of the above, according to Amy Thibault, communications director for CVS, who said the CVS in Target was open for business. The pharmacist there did need to take sudden leave on Thursday, Thibault said, and, under state law, a pharmacy can’t be open to the public without a licensed pharmacist on site.

“It was an isolated incident,” she said. “There are no staffing shortages in that area.”

The store was open on Friday.

If a staff member other than the licensed pharmacist couldn’t work, the pharmacy would have stayed open, she said. “If it had been a pharmacy tech, we wouldn’t have had to shut down.”

As for long lines, Thibault said this could be linked to recent staff changes at the site. 

Strong reactions to the suddenly shuttered CVS Target are understandable, given today’s unpredictable world of drug stores and pharmacies, with many either closing or shrinking their opening hours. 

The CVS pharmacy on Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way shuttered in May, as the chain announced it will be closing 900 pharmacies nationwide over the next couple of years. 

As for Walgreens, its Gilman Street store pharmacy is closed, as are the entire stores on Shattuck in North Berkeley and at San Pablo and Ashby avenues. In February, the drugstore chain closed its pharmacy at its 2310 Telegraph Ave. location. The Walgreens pharmacy at 2190 Shattuck Ave. is closed on weekends; the pharmacy of the 2801 Adeline store is closed Sundays.

Walgreens said it plans to close 200 stores nationwide. In San Francisco, the retail chain has already closed 22 stores over the past five years, which spurred controversy when it blamed the action on a rise in shoplifting.

Some local officials viewed this with skepticism, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who told the Los Angeles Times last year, “They are saying [retail theft is] the primary reason, but I also think when a place is not generating revenue, and when they’re saturated — S.F. has a lot of Walgreens locations all over the city — so I do think that there are other factors that come into play.”

Berkeleyside reached out to Walgreens this week for an update on its pharmacy openings and closings in the city, and hasn’t yet heard back.

In June, a Walgreens spokesperson told Berkeleyside the chain’s online store locator map is regularly updated, and the best place to learn what is open and closed. 

This story will be updated if we learn more.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly reported the days when the pharmacies of the Walgreens stores at 2190 Shattuck Ave. and 2801 Adeline are closed.

Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...