Whatever Happened to the Friendly Neighborhood Pharmacy?

We used to have one in my hometown. There was a time, when I young, that we went there often. It can’t be that long ago — I’m not that old.

It was on the eastern corner of a tiny, 60’s-style mall, next to a variety store and two stores down from a Chinese restaurant. The shelves were stacked floor-to-ceiling with remedies, bandages, and other ordinary medical supplies. The pharmacist’s counter sat parallel to the entrance on the other side of the cramped but cozy store.

Despite the clutter, no one ever had trouble finding what they needed. The pharmacist and her assistants were always there to guide you to the right aisle, and happy to answer whatever questions you had about your prescription.

I never felt anything but welcome there, even as a shy little kid. When my mother said I was scared about taking an antibiotic, the pharmacist offered us a cute, green medicine cup in the shape of an alligator. When our family doctor passed away, she referred us to a new doctor who had just opened a practice in the area.

Of course, the place is long gone. It was replaced years ago by a PharmaPlus, soon joined by a Rexall just down the street. The local grocery store vanished around the same time, and in its place is a sprawling Sobeys with its own pharmacy counters.

The aisles in these stores are wider. The selection of items is broader. But I’ve never had the pharmacist there offer to help me find what I’m looking for. I’ve never thought to ask them for advice — they’re too busy.

Unfortunately, when it comes time for independent pharmacy owners to sell, it’s not always easy to find a buyer who wants to keep things the way they were. Many enlist the help of a pharmacy broker, who help people buy and sell a pharmacy. This often results in the business changing so much that it hardly resembles the friendly business that built years of good will in the community.

There’s value in a neighborhood pharmacy. Fortunately, I’m not the only person who thinks that way. That’s why independent pharmacies can still survive by taking the traditional approach. They can still offer the kind of one-to-one, pharmacist-to-patient relationships I remember. Customer service and counselling is what sets independent pharmacies apart from their towering competitors.

Companies like Colony Drug are helping to keep independent pharmacies alive. Unlike a pharmacy broker, Colony commits to keeping the same staff, branding, and policies when it buys an independent pharmacy.

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