Vol. 15, No. 9      April 25 - May 8, 2002


Most Local Pharmacies Not Fazed by Chains


Lenny Zimmerman has owned and operated Lesell Drugs in Norwood for almost 20 years. Six weeks ago, he was contacted by someone from CVS. The giant drug store chain said they were interested in giving him a job as a pharmacist at their new Bainbridge Avenue location a block away and offered to buy out his store. Zimmerman told them simply, "I'm not interested right now."

Zimmerman is among many local pharmacy owners wondering how they will be affected by a new chain store nearby. "Of course I'm nervous, but I'm not too worried," Zimmerman said. "We offer a better service than they can offer. We know our customers when they come in. At CVS, they will see a different pharmacist every time." Zimmerman adds, "I think most of my customers are fairly loyal."

Todd Andrews, a CVS spokesman, sees things differently. "Individual attention to the patient is a hallmark of the [pharmacist] profession." Asked about his firm's offer to buy out Lesell, Andrews said, "When we open a new store and see that there is a talented pharmacist working nearby, of course we ask him to be part of our team and want to benefit from his expertise."

Zimmerman isn't too worried by the competition because he says Lesell Drugs is uniquely qualified to serve their customers' needs. And, he adds, "We do a lot of business with the hospital, especially the Oncology and Sickle Cell departments and the Pain Clinic."

Zimmerman's expectation that his pharmacy will continue to do just fine appears to be borne out by other local pharmacies that have experienced only a minimal drop in sales.

A year ago, a CVS opened on Gun Hill Road in Norwood. Neither Oval Pharmacy nor Neighborhood Pharmacy nearby thinks the chain has encroached on their business. Khalib Naseem, owner of Neighborhood Pharmacy, says that the opening of the CVS just four blocks from his store doesn't really affect his business at all. "Maybe 1 percent or 2 percent," he said. "That doesn't bother me. I'd say almost all our regular customers stayed with us."

But Jay Dhaduk, a pharmacist at Leroy Drugs on East 204th Street, is much more wary of the new CVS on Bainbridge. "I don't approve of their coming into the neighborhood, of course not," Dhaduk says. "It will hurt the whole neighborhood, big time. Drugstores of course, but also discount stores, carry-outs, groceries, will all get killed."

"Prescription sales will not be hurt, but front sales (all other merchandise] in the aisles) definitely will," he added. Dhaduk says shoppers buy into the game the chain stores play. "Everyone looks for the bargain, which I understand," he says. "But [the chains] are cheaper on maybe five items, and everything else is much higher priced."

David Krell, owner of Star Drugs on Kingsbridge Road, says customers quickly become aware of the lower prices on much of the merchandise at their local pharmacy after a brief flirtation with the chains. After an initial drop in sales, following the recent opening of a new Duane Reade on the same block, business rebounded. "Customers are coming back and complaining about high prescription prices," Krell said. "They were shocked to see that a $60 prescription at Duane Reade was only $40 here."

A month after the Duane Reade opening, Krell said both businesses have something to offer the community as they meet different needs. "I think we complement each other," he says, "I think there is a place for both of us."

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