A longtime fixture in Rockville Centre served its customers for the last time last week. Davis Ethical Pharmacy, at 124 N. Long Beach Road, closed on Friday after more than 80 years in business.
The drug store’s last day was Thursday, and the CVS Pharmacy at 598 Merrick Road has taken over its prescription service after purchasing the business from its owner, Rajendraprasad Venigalla, who could not be reached for comment by press time. CVS began serving Davis Pharmacy customers on Friday.
Venigalla, who owns a number of pharmacies on Long Island and in New York City, bought the store in 2011 from William Davis, the son of its original owner.
Mayor Francis X. Murray said that his family had long patronized Davis Pharmacy, starting with his father and continuing through to his grandchildren. The Davis family was well known in the community for many years. “Billy Davis and I were firefighters together,” Murray said. “It’s sad to see a business that has served residents for so long leave our village.”
With a sign in the window directing customers to CVS, employees were helping to clear out the store last Friday. Pharmacist Randi Krutzler, who worked there for 32 years, was tasked with breaking the news to customers. “I have to call our patients and tell them their prescriptions have been moved,” she said. “It’s hard, and I feel bad for them, but I thank them for their loyalty over the years.”
Brian Croutier, president of the village Chamber of Commerce, said he, too, remembered going to Davis Pharmacy as a child, and he was sorry to see it close. “I’m never happy to see any business suffer and go out of business, especially one that has been around so long,” Croutier said. “Unfortunately, the flock toward online shopping and instant gratification is affecting a lot of small businesses.”
Howard Jacobson, owner of the Rockville Centre Pharmacy and Ryan Medical Pharmacy, as well as the West Hempstead Pharmacy, recalled that when he came to the community 33 years ago, there were no fewer than 13 independent pharmacies in addition to a CVS and a Rite Aid. Over the years, the other pharmacies “went by the wayside,” Jacobson said, “until it was just me and Bill.”
“Davis Pharmacy was an institution here,” Jacobson added. “It did all the things that small pharmacies are expected to, including developing a relationship with its patients.”
Also, he said, the two pharmacies had a business relationship based on mutual respect. Davis pharmacists would sometimes refer patients to Jacobson for hard-to-find drugs. “We weren’t aiming to steal each other’s customers,” he said, “but were looking out for the patients’ needs.”
Local pharmacies, Jacobson said, used to be places where customers would buy a range of items in addition to their prescriptions. “Now they get their pills and walk out, and do their shopping elsewhere,” he said. “It’s a tough industry.”
What customers don’t realize, Jacobson said, is that while medications may be expensive, pharmacists — especially independent ones — aren’t making money on them. “It’s a very narrow-margin business,” he said. “And we’re all on the brink.”
In a trend that started about 25 years ago, pharmacy benefits managers, such as CVS Caremark and Express Scripts, now act as middlemen in the prescription drug industry, and, Jacobson said, “essentially call the shots. They extract money out of the industry, make billions of dollars, and put us small guys out of business.”
PBMs are unregulated companies hired by insurers to manage their prescription drug claims and negotiate pricing with drug manufacturers. While insurance covers the cost of a medication after the co-pay, a PBM collects the balance from the insurer, passes a portion on to the pharmacy and then pockets the rest. PBMs do not have to disclose to insurers how much they pass on to pharmacies or disclose to pharmacies how much they collect from insurers.
“The industry is in a complete upside down state of affairs,” Jacobson said. “They expect us to do more and more and get paid less and less.”
Keeping independent businesses alive is partially up to consumers, but pharmacists also need support from the government. What customers can do, Jacobson said, is purchase additional items from the drug store — over-the-counter medications, medical supplies, vitamins, cosmetics — so it can cover its day-to-day costs.
Jacobson and other independent pharmacists have also been pushing for regulation of the PBMs. Jacobson is involved with the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York and the Long Island Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and will head to Albany on March 3 to lobby for licensing and regulating PBMs by way of the state budget. The budget, which must be approved by April 1, requires PBMs to register with the Department of Financial Services and to disclose financial incentives they receive for promoting specific drugs, as well as other financial arrangements affecting customers, to bring transparency to their operations and to control skyrocketing prescription drug costs.
“We’re encouraged Governor Cuomo called for PBM reform in the budget, and by the continued commitment to this issue by lawmakers,” said Steve Moore, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. “It’s the best way, in the short term, to ensure critical protections for patients, taxpayers and pharmacies.”
Jacobson, who has been a pharmacist for more than 40 years, said that at this point, he isn’t in it to make money. “I’m passionate about the profession,” he said, “and I’m still trying to be in it for the long haul.”