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If anyone's keeping track, yes, my column is a bit early this week -- our deadline is usually Monday, but rumor has it that's Christmas this time around ...


Yes, I predicted weeks ago that the economy was going to take a major downturn, but never would I have imagined Albion’s only pharmacy closing. It was a shock to almost everyone, including the employees, who had barely a week’s notice that their world was about to be turned upside down.

Everyone’s world was turned upside down. You have to actually live in a small town like Albion, Avilla or Garrett to understand just how big a deal it is to lose the old fashioned drug store that you’ve always depended on.

On a related note, Fischer’s employees heard many complaints, complete with yelling, cursing, and in one case, an item actually thrown at an employee. This kind of moronic activity does no one any good. First of all, the deal was done before they ever found out, and all the misaimed anger in the world wasn’t going to change it. Second, do you really think the employees were part of some vast conspiracy to take away their own jobs? Don’t take your frustrations out on service industry employees who are just trying to make a living.

Which is not to say we, the people of Albion, Avilla and Garrett, didn’t have reason to be upset.

The presence of certain things help determine whether your town will continue to prosper or start that long downhill slide to “blink and you’ll miss it”: for instance, school, post office, grocery store. It may be the pharmacy straddles that line between the critical and the “bad news but survivable” things, such as having a factory close down.

I believe Albion will survive. I also believe a downturn in the economy isn’t the reason for us losing Fischer Pharmacy, although economic pressures are certainly a factor.

The basic reasons given for the sale of the small Fischer Pharmacy chain to CVS Pharmacy (which does not plan to come to town) are: mail order, insurance, and a shortage of pharmacists.

I attended an insurance meeting the morning after learning of Fischer’s demise. Every time the insurance representatives mentioned prescriptions, it was followed by a very strong recommendation that any long term medications be bought mail order. Simply speaking, it saves money for the user. It also saves money for the insurance company, something the insurance guy didn’t bring up.

That helps explain points one and two; point three, according to my research, is true enough: There’s a shortage of pharmacists, and small town drug stores can’t afford to compete for them. So parents, steer your kids in that direction.

Anyway, there are certainly ways this could have been handled better. According to unconfirmed but likely rumor, this deal has been in the works for many months. Why break the news only a week before closing?

The same thing happened at the NAPA store, where a sign was simply hung on the door and that was that. But there were two automotive stores in Albion, not to mention the fact that very few people depend on wiper blades and spark plugs for their continued health. (Okay, some do.) A little more warning would have made the loss a bit easier on both employees and customers.

The real question is, can a new pharmacy be attracted to Albion? Avilla already laid its cards on the table: It’s looking. Within hours of the news breaking here in Albion, I started bending the ears of people who I consider movers and shakers, people with the ability and desire to fill up this hole in our local economy.

I even had a place for a new pharmacy, in the old NAPA store. Which caught fire that night.

That damage turned out to be minor, but a location is far from the biggest problem we’re facing. CVS already has stores in virtually all of the surrounding communities, and isn’t going to want to compete with itself; after all, that’s the reason they bought Fischer out to begin with. Walgreens, according to my highly paid spies, is preparing to build a new store in Kendallville as well as their Columbia City site, and will also not be interested in competing with themselves. What else do you have, these days? Wal-Mart? No, thanks.

So here are the problems. First, you’ve got mail order prescriptions. Second (again according to my spies), the new retirement home, which could have brought a lot of prescription business, contracted with a different company to provide drugs. (Because it’s cheaper? Because someone had already put a bug in their ears about the closing? Doesn’t’ matter anymore.)

Third, and most important, people no longer have enough sense of community to shop locally. They’re going to larger towns to get things they can get more easily in their home towns, then bragging because they spent 50 cents worth of gas to save 25 cents on their purchase. Everyone who’s ever made a trip to Kendallville, or Columbia City, or Fort Wayne solely to buy groceries and fill their prescriptions is every bit as much to blame for the closing of Fischer Pharmacy than the big wigs at CVS.

Worse, going out of town to save money is a circular argument. The way to lower prices is to bring in competition; but the competition won’t come if the shoppers don’t stay in town.

I don’t know what can be done to change that. I’ve already resolved to be more careful about buying in Albion, when possible, but I did some counting in the mirror and I’m just one man. Even if we all took similar steps to support our home towns, changing economic forces may make it a moot point when it comes to pharmacies.

Just the same, efforts will go on to bring us another pharmacy. If, by some miracle (in other words, hard work and economic incentives), we should succeed, it’s going to be up to each small town resident to look within yourselves and decide if you’re going to let such a thing happen again.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2006 04:42 am (UTC)
Well, that sucks. I don't like the mail order argument.

It's all well and good if you don't need the prescription filled immediately, but mail order just won't cut it when you've come down with an evil bug, get hit by a urinary tract infection (which seem to move at the speed of light) or need the serious pain killers due to a mishap while fixing the roof on the weekend.

I think the people in Albion will really start missing their pharmacy more than they expected.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 03:11 am (UTC)
I had a urinary tract infection once, and yeah, speed of light.

The people of Albion started missing the pharmacy the instant they found out it was closing. A lot of them may have taken it for granted before, but there wasn't one who didn't realize what they were losing when the news hit.

I agree with you about mail order, but i don't believe it's something that's going to go away. It saves money for the insurance companies, which is all they care about, and for people on long term meds, which is all *they* care about. When you combine that with people who get their prescriptions filled while they're wandering around the aisles of the big box stores, the small town pharmacies lose a lot of business.
Dec. 21st, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
That's awful! How long does it take to drive to the next closest chemist if you needed something urgently?
Dec. 23rd, 2006 03:26 am (UTC)
Not all that long, really. The closest pharmacy to here would be in Kendallville, and I can get there in about 20 minutes if the traffic is right. (That's also where the closest hospital is.) That's a 24 mile round trip, but it's all on state roads, so it could be worse. I can only imagine how bad it would be for some town out west, where you have to drive for an hour to get to the nearest cross road.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 03:36 am (UTC)
Ah...I was envisioning much further... it is still a pain but not as bad as I'd imagined. LOL...I have a 15 min drive from my house to actual real civilisation and 10 minutes the closest shop of any variety (little corner store).

Still, it is not overly convenient for those who don't drive. I hope you manage to convince another pharmacy to open in your town.

LOL...yep, we have some stations out west where the closest hospital is a few days drive away (thank god for the Flying Doctor) and shopping is done once every few months. I have immense respect for the people who live that kind of life... there's no way I could do it!
Dec. 24th, 2006 06:29 am (UTC)
Agreed, I'd hate to live that kind of life, too. Some people (generally young people) will chaff at being in this area, complaining we're all hicks and there's nothing to do ... but the second largest city in Indiana is half an hour's drive from here. They have no idea what "rural" really means. Live in Albion and you have cable TV, good cell phone reception, water and sewer service, fire, police and ambulance stations, and almost every necessity within walking distance.

One of my former partners worked dispatch in a Montana county Sheriff's Department for awhile. There's be two deputies on duty, just like here, but our county is 24 miles in length. She described times an office would drive with lights and siren for 100 miles to answer a call. A lot can happen in the time it takes to cover that distance.
Dec. 21st, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)
Apathy is the greatest danger to freedom. That was taken from an email I recieved not too long ago. We do things to kill our own country. We think that driving to another town will save us 5 or 10 bucks when it costs us that much in gas and we kill our own economy.

I had to come find your latest post because I've been missing your column a lot lately. There is nothing that can be done until we ourselves quit worrying about politically correctness, what everyone in the world thinks of us, and saving a buck that we instead spend on gas. Ppl need to wake up and realize what we are doing to ourselves instead of just complaining about it as we keep doing the things that will eventually destroy us.

Thanks for the thoughts. They always give me something to think about. *hugs*
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:05 am (UTC)
something to think about
Sounds to me like you have plenty of good thoughts of your own! :-) And yes, I'm with you on the apathy.
Dec. 21st, 2006 08:17 am (UTC)
I did put a random suggestion in the system to build at Columbia City...my chief complaint was that since I traveled to the area often enough, it wasn't always convenient to drive into Fort Wayne to fill a prescription and that if I filled that prescription at someplace like CVS because it was the only other place around, Walgreens would NEVER reimburse me...the next closest Walgreens at that time was WAAAY out in Goshen!

I could put a bug in their ear to build on the western end of Kendallville towards Albion, citing the potential for snatching up those CVS customers!! Dunno if they'd listen to little old me, but who knows!

If your small pharmacy is having any sort of "fire sale" (pardon the pun) and you happen across some vintage pharmacy items, especially a lovely old mortar & pestle...do let them know there's someone here in IL who might be interested in some vintage pharmaceutical nostalgia!
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:15 am (UTC)
I'm afraid CVS management got all the inventory and took it with them, while the owner of the building (and head pharmacist) took all the old time decorations with him. Now they're trying to sell the building, which concerns me because my daughter lives in the upstairs apartment and would end up on the street. Hopefully not literally.

Since CVS is already in Kendallville and Walgreens is coming, while from what I'm told the opposite is true in Columbia City (I don't usually shop down there), I don't see either of them worrying overly much about Albion anytime soon. The next closest big town is Ligonier, which already has a Walgreens. The only thing that would make any real difference at this point is a pharmacy coming directly to Albion. The thing is, we have an honest to goodness medical row, along Trailridge Road on the north edge of town: Dentist, doctor, optomitrist, senior citizen apartments, retirement home, and -- um -- CPA, all along one stretch of pavement. A perfect place for a pharmacy.
Dec. 21st, 2006 08:42 am (UTC)
I don't understand the argument about the lack of pharmacist if there was already a pharmacist working there? *confused*

Nor do I understand the reasoning that you can get presciption drugs mail order. Surely the whole point of needing a presciption filled is that you need the drugs immediately? Or do the drug companies send them out the same day? Pesonally I would not want to wait if my child was sick and I couldn't get hold of antibiotics until the next day....

And what about elderly people (who aren't in the retirement home) who perhaps don't drive - they can't go to a large town can they!
Dec. 22nd, 2006 02:06 am (UTC)
There is a shuttle service from Albion to Kendalville, I think. I haven't lived there in a long time, but my great aunt used to catch a van into town to buy groceries and whatnot. Maybe it's still there?
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:25 am (UTC)
There is a senior citizen transport service that operators in Noble County. In addition, Chronister has announced they'll make deliveries to Albion. We'll do our best to make sure people who can't travel get taken care of.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:20 am (UTC)
All reasonable concerns. The idea behind mail order isn't to supply immediately needed drugs: it's long term medications, things people need to take all the time. Pharmacies would still be needed for things like antibiotics, but because their volume would go down, there would be less pharmacies around; and they'd be dominated by the big chains, which make money by selling volume.

For the elderly people, the Chronister chain has announced that they'll deliver to Albion. They have a store in Kendallville, so they're only 12 miles away.

Not that any of that changes my opinion that this whole thing is a tragedy.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:45 am (UTC)
Sorry, I forgot the question about the lack of pharmacists. The pharmacist there also owned the building, which explains a lot about why he stuck around as long as he did. When the business owner took the buyout, that pharmacist moved to a CVS store and immediately started making close to twice the pay he got at Fischers. Simply speaking, small town pharmacies can't afford to pay a pharmacist unless he has a compelling reason to stay there besides money.
Dec. 21st, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
That's a right bugger. Mail-order prescriptions might be fine for long-term meds, but really not any good for emergency prescriptions. And the more people send their long-term scripts to the mail-order fims the less likely the pharmacy is to stay in town to fill those emergency ones....
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:27 am (UTC)
That's exactly right; mail-order is killing any chance of us attracting a pharmacy back to Albion.
Dec. 22nd, 2006 02:03 am (UTC)
While I agree with the noble endeavor of supporting local businesses, sometimes you just can't afford it. :\

I hate Walmart more than any person on this earth, but it's got cheap groceries, and I need to eat. It doesn't make me feel any better about shopping there; I really loathe the place. I only shop there between 9pm-9am to avoid the plague of children.

I think instead of subsidizing big oil, the federal government should channel those funds to states and allocate them to subsidize small businesses. But as long as Indiana keeps voting Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) to protect their precious "family values", that will never happen.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 07:41 am (UTC)
I believe in free enterprise; that small businesses should be left alone to become bigger, as long as the biggest ones aren't allowed to buy out all the competition and become the business equivilant of a dictatorship. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happening with pharmacies (and big box stores).

As for Wal-Mart, there's not a week that goes by that I don't walk into the one in Kendallville, simply because I go to Kendallville often to pick up my youngest. But the average cost of groceries in Albion's store -- with the exception of Wal-Mart's loss leaders -- isn't as much more than most people believe. Certainly it's not enough to justify the time, gas (big oil!) and wear and tear on a vehicle to drive 25 miles one way, unless someone's already there for some other reason.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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