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DEERFIELD, IL-The prescription needs of aging baby boomers and speedy approvals are fueling record new-store growth this year at Walgreens, executives said at the company’s third quarter conference call. But expansion will slow to more normal levels next year.

Record quarter sales of $15 billion (up 9.6% over last year) will only grow as baby boomers hit their senior years, said Chairman and CEO Jeffrey A. Rein. Net earnings for the quarter rose 2% over the previous year to $572 million. Total comp-store sales rose 3.4%.

“In spite of the current environment, nothing will slow the impact of nearly 80 million baby boomers moving into their chief prescription-use years,” Rein said. “This is a very good business to be in for the long term.”

Walgreens will open 550 new drugstores this year, with a net increase of more than 500, expanding its drugstore base by approximately 9% in fiscal 2008. This is higher than its more typical 8% growth, boosted by swifter-than-normal entitlement processes, and is unlikely to be repeated.

“Many of these sites were [contracted] approximately 24 to 36 months ago,” Rein said. “In future years we will see this growth [level] go down.”

The company remains on track to meet its goal of operating more than 7,000 drugstores by 2010. In May, Walgreens announced plans to open its first stores in Alaska in 2009, giving the company a presence in all 50 states.

As of May 31, Walgreens operated 6,727 locations in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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