Eckerd buyer may be ready to unload

Published June 26, 2006

That didn't take long.

Speculation is mounting that the Canadian chain that bought more than 1,500 Eckerd drugstores only two years ago is thinking of unloading about half of them to Rite Aid Inc.

Jean Coutu Group of Montreal said the pairing of its 300 Brooks Pharmacy stores in New England with more than 1,500 Eckerds scattered from Georgia to New York was not going well.

That came months ago when the chain's patriarch/name-sake stepped in to demote his CEO son Jacques, who had bought half the remains of Largo-based Eckerd from J.C. Penney for $2.38-billion in 2004.

Wall Street rumors of a sale have brewed to the point where analysts estimate a price of about $800-million. They are handi-capping whether Rite Aid will bid for up to 700 Eckerd stores from Georgia into the mid-Atlantic states, according to Drug Store News.

The trade publication quotes Credit Suisse analyst Ed Kelly as figuring there's a 25 percent chance Rite Aid would make the deal if Coutu's financial picture continues to deteriorate.