Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

Next Week's Column: Small Town Pharmacy, Big Time Loss

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.
Tags: albion, new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column

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