April 23, 2003

The Vanishing Drug Store.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 12:46 am

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the drug store that has been filling our prescriptions for the last 28 years. The letter said that the family-owned business had been acquired by one of the gargantuan “drug store” chains. We have three such gargantuan drug stores, each representing a different gargantuan drug store chain, all within one mile of one another in the town.

I recall first going into Nestor’s (not the real name) drug store in 1975 and meeting Mr. Nestor, the owner and pharmacist. It was a small store that derived most of its income from filling prescriptions. The store had limited shelf space on which one could find the kinds of things that one used to go to a pharmacy to buy. There were a few over the counter cough medicines, aspirins, and allergy tablets, but even then, people would tend to buy those things across the street in the supermarket. So, Nestor’s stocked the types of things that one could not find in the supermarket, such as post surgical supplies, Ace bandages and the like.

Mr. Nestor insisted on keeping accurate patient profiles and prescription histories, always on the lookout for potential dangerous drug interactions or allergies. He also made sure that he spoke with every customer about his or her prescription. He cared about his customers. I recall one night when my daughter was an infant, and she was having a very difficult time breathing, as her nose was terribly clogged. The doctor recommended that I buy a nasal aspirator. It was eleven o’clock at night, and I called Nestor’s. A recording provided an “after hours” number. I labored over whether to use the after hours number, because this was not a life threatening condition, but my daughter’s continued distress made the decision for me.

I called Mr. Nestor, apologized for bothering him and explained that I needed a nasal aspirator. He instructed me to meet him at the store in ten minutes. I remember that he showed up with an overcoat over his pajamas. He unlocked the door to the store and handed me the aspirator. I took out money to pay him, and he said, “Don’t worry about that now. Go home and take care of the baby. Pay me next time you come in.”

I never forgot that.

His pharmacy enabled him to raise a family, which included a daughter who eventually became a pharmacist herself. After graduation from pharmacy school, she worked with Mr. Nestor at the store. For the last five years or so, his daughter took over the drug store, and Mr. Nestor would come in from time to time to help out.

Within that five-year period, the manner in which drugs are provided changed drastically, with the bulk of the prescription business being covered by employer-provided prescription plans, which do not allow much of a margin for pharmacies. In addition, internet and mail order prescriptions took their toll on Nestor’s business. The final nail in the coffin came with the appearance of the three giant drug stores in town. Nestor’s daughter tried scaling back hours; she tried guaranteeing filling of prescriptions in ten minutes or less. Nothing worked.

So, as the letter stated, one of the giant stores acquired Nestor’s business. I have no doubt that what the giant wanted most and what it paid for was Nestor’s goodwill i.e. the customer list. I’m sure that it paid a pittance for Nestor’s inventory, because the giant store’s inventory of hair care products alone is probably worth more than the entire inventory of Nestor’s. Part of the deal also included a pharmacist job for Mr. Nestor’s daughter.

Last week, I had to have a prescription filled, so I drove to the giant store. Why the place is called a “drug store” escapes me, for the “drug store” part is tucked away in the back of a huge retail space where one can buy everything from every deodorant and toothpaste known to man to motor oil and Franco American Spaghetti.

Nestor’s daughter was one of the three pharmacists behind the counter. She looked miserable, decked out in her lab coat emblazoned with the Giant Store logo, as she struggled with the store’s computer. She greeted me warmly and did her best to retain her game face, as she filled the prescription. I managed to retain my game face as well, as I wished her luck. It was sad.

This morning, I walked past the old store. It is empty, and there are glitzy signs on the window, which were printed by Giant Store, saying “We’ve Moved!” and providing the address of Giant Store.

The signs lie. Nestor’s didn’t move. It vanished.

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