A future with fewer Thrifty Ice Cream counters looms in SoCal

The Thrifty Ice Cream counter within Rite Aid's Glassell Park location
Rite Aid’s Glassell Park location — including its Thrifty Ice Cream counter — is slated to close Tuesday, Oct. 31, as part of the company’s debt restructuring after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)
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Nicole Coronado and her family didn’t know her lifelong Rite Aid and Thrifty counter were closing until they passed through the Alhambra store’s doors on Wednesday afternoon.

“Honestly, we came here today just for the ice cream,” she said. “Today we were like, ‘Oh, it’s really hot, let’s go get some ice cream.’ And then we walked into the store and everything’s clearance now. That’s how we found out.”

On Monday, Coronado’s family favorite Rite Aid location is set to close, one of 154 stores shuttering in the coming weeks amid a debt restructuring and the company’s filing for Chapter 11 in U.S. bankruptcy court in New Jersey. Thirty-one of those Rite Aid locations are in California.


The drugstore chain sells one of the region’s most iconic desserts with nearly a century of history and happy customers: Thrifty Ice Cream.

Famed for affordability and its cylindrical scoops available in roughly 40 flavors, Thrifty Ice Cream is one of the Southland’s most nostalgic treats, beloved by generations of Angelenos.

Downtown’s first Thrifty drugstore, founded in 1929, and soda shop initially sourced its ice cream from multiple purveyors before its owners launched their own ice cream factory in Hollywood in 1940. It moved to the current larger El Monte facility in 1976.

A mint chocolate chip ice cream cone flanked by Thrifty ice cream scoops at Rite Aid's Glassell Park location
Thrifty Ice Cream’s iconic cylindrical scoops are made possible via a proprietary scoop that’s available for purchase at most Rite Aid locations.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Twenty-nine of the 31 California Rite Aid locations that are set to close house a Thrifty Ice Cream counter, according to the company’s site listings and descriptions, including Glassell Park, Culver City, Downey, Long Beach, Mid-Wilshire, La Mirada, Burbank, Covina, La Puente and Ontario. Some have already permanently shuttered.

Rite Aid spokesperson Alicja Wojczyk said that although many stores are closing — and with nearly all of them, Thrifty Ice Cream stations — the purveyor of the beloved frozen goods is not shutting down entirely.


Thrifty fans will still be able to find the ice cream at hundreds of locations via the remaining Rite Aid scoop counters, of which there are more than 10 in the L.A. area, as well as the remaining Rite Aid frozen-food aisles, where the bright red pints and 1.5-quart tubs are sold.

As Rite Aid restructures its debt in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it will close 154 locations in 15 states, including 31 in California.

Oct. 18, 2023

“Our pharmacies continue to fill prescriptions, and our customers can visit our stores or shop online for the products and services they rely on, including our iconic SoCal favorite Thrifty ice cream,” Wojczyk said via email. “Thrifty operations will not be impacted by the filing.”

Representatives at the El Monte ice cream factory could not be reached for comment.

The frozen-treats chain is no stranger to upheaval. In 1986 Pacific Enterprises purchased the company, and then in 1992 investment company Leonard Green & Partners gained ownership before Rite Aid acquired Thrifty in 1996. In 2018 Walgreens purchased more than 1,900 Rite Aid locations after years of negotiations, and in that same year, Albertsons nearly acquired Rite Aid — with plans to sell Thrifty in its grocery stores — though that merger was terminated.

Empty shelves in the freezer aisle of Rite Aid's Alhambra location
All retail tubs and pints of Thrifty-brand ice cream were sold out at the Alhambra Rite Aid location, which is set to close Monday. At the ice cream counter, cones were sold out, and scoopable flavors were dwindling.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Through the ice cream company’s changing ownership, generations of fans stayed true. Coronado’s grandfather used to bring her to the Alhambra location for Thrifty ice cream when she was a child, and they both still visit regularly.

The evidence of the shop’s pending closure was abundantly clear on a recent afternoon: Yellow clearance stickers fastened to retail shelves advertised half-off merchandise. At the Thrifty Ice Cream counter, staff said they’d run out of cones and many flavors, and would not be restocking before Monday.

On Coronado’s visit, she and her family passed by the frozen aisle to see if there were any retail tubs of Thrifty available, but they were already sold out.

“We’ve gotta hit up all the Rite Aids right now,” she said.

To Coronado, most ice cream doesn’t compare: She feels they’re often too saccharine, whereas Thrifty’s flavors contain “a subtle sweetness,” she said. And, her son Ethan Cruz chimed in, they offer a cotton candy flavor. Normally Coronado orders strawberry, but Cruz said he tends to rotate between four: vanilla, cookies ’n’ cream, chocolate and strawberry.

“I’m not much of an ice cream person, or a sweets person,” Coronado said. “But [Thrifty] definitely hits the spot. It’s the exception.”

From classic creameries to regional styles, Los Angeles and Orange County stand out with a surplus of ice cream shops worth exploring.

Aug. 23, 2023

Nine miles away, another Rite Aid with a Thrifty Ice Cream counter was preparing to close.

“This store is closing, no more ice cream for customers,” said employee Blanca, who declined to share her last name. As she walked from the front register to scoop ice cream for customers, she noted her location is due to close Oct. 31, after which she’ll be transferring to another location.


Rite Aid spokesperson Wojczyk told The Times that the company would “strive to transfer associates to other Rite Aid locations where possible.”

Longtime customer Glenn, who declined to share his last name, had seen the news of Rite Aid’s bankruptcy filing but hadn’t heard that many locations — including his usual store, in Glassell Park — would be closing. “Oh no, that’s so soon,” he said. “I don’t know where to go now if this Rite Aid will close. There’s not [another] one close by. There’s one in Pasadena.”

He recalls when single scoops used to cost 25 cents, a novelty and a comfort he discovered shortly after emigrating from the Philippines in 1999.

Six tubs of ice cream in the Thrifty ice cream case at Rite Aid's Glassell Park location
A portion of Glassell Park’s fully stocked Thrifty Ice Cream case. This Rite Aid location is slated to close Oct. 31.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

His flavor of choice? It’s usually Chocolate Malted Krunch, though on Wednesday he wanted to try the strawberry cheesecake for the first time. Glenn tries to avoid eating sweets, he said, but every three months or so he makes a visit to a Thrifty counter, pulling over if he sees the sign affixed to a Rite Aid location.

The Glassell Park outpost is his regular shop, and while he knows many stores will remain open, “It’s still kind of sad,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been coming to this area — because this is a Filipino area — this Rite Aid specifically has been here for a while. More than 20 years.”


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Aug. 23, 2023

It anchors a strip mall that includes a Filipino restaurant, an O’Reilly Auto Parts and a mochi doughnut shop and is one of the few ice cream stores in the neighborhood. Until Oct. 31, that fully stocked case of Mint ’N Chip, chocolate brownie, black cherry, rainbow sherbet, butter pecan, coconut pineapple and more will beckon, the colors and patterns displayed in their tubs near the front of the drugstore.

After that, Glenn and Thrifty’s other fans might just have to drive a little farther for those signature, cylindrical scoops.