It began in 1928 as a cigar and tobacco shop in downtown Minneapolis, but Snyder Drug Stores eventually grew into the corner store and pharmacy of choice for generations of Minnesotans.

But as competition mounted in recent years from national pharmacy retailers as well as grocers and discount chains, Snyders saw its stores steadily dwindle. On Wednesday, Walgreen Co. said it is buying the remaining 25 company-owned stores in Minnesota, officially ending Snyders' glory days.

Some of the stores will remain in business under the Walgreens name, but a "significant number" will close, Snyders spokesman Michael Morin said. The last prescriptions will be filled at Snyders stores on Jan. 21. Prescription and customer information then will be transferred to Walgreens.

"The reality of specialty retail is that if you're not No. 1 or No. 2, you're not going to be around," said Love Goel, CEO of Minnetonka-based private equity firm GVG Capital Group. "Walgreens and CVS dominate -- and eventually, the others will evaporate or be consumed by these guys. They can't compete in terms of access to different vendors, in market presence or from the standpoint of marketing, merchandising and operations."

The Snyders name may not disappear completely. Seven independently owned franchise stores in Minnesota and 18 in other states will have the option to continue operating under the Snyder's name, Morin said.

Snyders employees were told the news Tuesday. Several workers who didn't want their names used told the Star Tribune that they didn't yet have information on whether their store would remain open or whether they would still have jobs.

More than 300 are union-represented workers in the Twin Cities, according to Bernie Hess, an organizer with St. Paul's United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, which represents about half of them.

Hess criticized Snyders for failing to give workers 60 days' notice under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and for putting workers at risk of losing health care benefits.

"They're morally obligated to give these folks more than a week's notice," Hess said. "We're calling on them to do the right thing."

Morin, the Snyders spokesman, said some of the 500 employees at the 25 Snyder's stores will be offered jobs at the surviving stores. Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, which has 132 stores in Minnesota, did not respond to questions about layoffs and severance packages.

With an aging population and rising use of prescription drugs, retail pharmacies have seen explosive growth in the past decade. In the last five years, about 60 chain stores operated by Walgreens, CVS Caremark Corp. of Woonsocket, R.I., and Minneapolis-based Target Corp. have opened in the Twin Cities, Morin said.

Snyder's had been struggling for some time; last year it closed 25 company-owned stores, most in Minnesota.

"It's a really competitive environment, and Snyder's was unable to compete with the chain stores," Morin said.

Businessmen Max Snyder, Louis Sachs and I.W. Goldberg opened the first Snyders in Minneapolis in 1928. The chain reached its peak in 1993, when it had 60 corporate-owned locations in the Twin Cities and 22 elsewhere, Morin said.

In 1999, the Minnetonka-based Snyder Drug Stores Inc. was purchased by Katz Group, a large drug-store chain based in Edmonton, Alberta. At the time, Snyders had 1,600 employees, and 141 company-owned and independent stores in six states. There were 55 stores in the Twin Cities.

Scott Sommer, an independent owner of the Snyder Super Stop in downtown Duluth, said he found out about the corporate deal with Walgreens from a customer. His store does not operate a pharmacy.

Sommer bought the store in 1994. Back then, he benefited from the Snyders warehouse system and other corporate partnerships. Today, he works directly with vendors and operates as a sole proprietor.

Sommer said business at the store "actually has been fine" through the recession. He'll probably keep the Snyders name.

"The name is not that big of a deal here, like it might be in the Twin Cities where there's a bigger presence," he said. "I could be called Joe's Market." • 612-673-7335 • 612-673-4553