Parker Drug to close pharmacy; gift shop, café to stay open

Published 8:14 am Friday, December 11, 2009

FRANKLIN—Farm Fresh has purchased the prescription files of Parker Drug and hired Ed Canada, who co-owns Parker Drug with his wife, as a pharmacist at the Armory Drive store.

The Canadas plan to keep the gift shop and soda fountain inside the downtown store, a fixture since 1887, open for at least the next three months.

Farm Fresh will handle prescriptions

Farm Fresh, which is owned by SuperValu Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., announced Thursday that the company had purchased the prescription files of Parker Drug’s active customers — estimated by Canada to be between 2,000 and 3,000 people — for an undisclosed amount.

“After careful thought and consideration, Glenna and I have decided to close the pharmacy at Parker Drug,” Canada was quoted as saying in a written statement released by Farm Fresh on Thursday. “I am pleased to announce we have made the decision to entrust your pharmaceutical needs to the professional and caring team at Farm Fresh because they provide the same personal service you are accustomed to and deserve, and they are best suited to continue your care.”

The change will take effect on Dec. 30. On that date, Parker Drug customers can begin picking up their prescriptions at the Farm Fresh Pharmacy, located at 1459 Armory Drive.

“Parker Drug has been a pillar of the Franklin community for over 100 years,” Ron Dennis, the president and chief operating officer of Farm Fresh, said in the same written statement. “We are honored to have Ed Canada and his team of professionals join our team. I am confident that the Franklin community will be pleased with the personal care and service provided by the Farm Fresh Pharmacy.”

Business climate bad for independent pharmacy

Canada said Thursday that he had been contemplating selling the pharmacy business, which he purchased in 1990, to Farm Fresh for the last two years.

“The world doesn’t point toward small business in a favorable way anymore,” Canada said. “It’s tough owning a small business. Independent pharmacies are really up against it because third-party insurance companies aren’t reimbursing us enough to make ends meet. One thing compounds the other, and it’s finally gotten to the point where we just can’t stay there. I’m losing money.”

Although Canada said the upcoming closure of the International Paper Co. paper mill “was probably the final straw,” it was not the only factor in the decision to close.

“Mail order has been our biggest enemy,” Canada said. “The mill hurt us two or three years ago when IP went to a mandatory mail order program. The City of Franklin did the same thing back in January. We lost a lot of customers.”

Canada added that pending health care reform legislation in Congress was another factor because he estimates that it will include a 20 percent to 30 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement.

“I had planned on staying (downtown) for 10 more years,” Canada said. “It’s a busy store and we sell a lot of prescriptions, but we don’t make any money on them. You can’t stay there like that.”

Gift shop, soda fountain to stay open for now

Canada said the other businesses inside the Parker Drug building, a gift shop and a soda fountain, would remain open — for now.

“My plan is to keep it open and try to run it for the next three months to see if it floats,” Canada said. “If it does, then I might just leave it like that. If it doesn’t, then I had considered selling it.”

Canada said he does not have the building, located at 102 N. Main St., listed with a real estate agent. He added that the agreement with Farm Fresh stipulates that there cannot be a competing pharmacy in the downtown building for the next five years.

Right now there are 18 employees at the store — from bookkeepers to store clerks to delivery drivers.

“Not all of us are going to be able to go to Farm Fresh,” Canada said, adding that he thinks it will take four or five employees to run the gift shop and soda fountain. “I want to give (the employees) time to prove themselves to see if they can make it work. If I can meet all of my expenses and pay everybody, then I might just leave it like it is. But if somebody comes by and makes me a good offer that I can’t turn down, I might consider selling it.”

The mood of Thursday’s lunchtime crowd at the soda fountain was somber.

“It’s bad news,” said Mildred Branche of Sedley, who eats breakfast and lunch at Parker Drug every day. “I get my ‘shot in the arm’ to go to work after being here. We like the fellowship and we love the girls.”

Branche paused to give a hug to Shana Martin, the fountain manager for the restaurant.

“If we can hold our own for three months, (Canada) is going to try and stay open longer,” said Martin, who has worked at Parker Drug for the last six years and worked there five additional years previously. “Maybe somebody will come along and buy it.”

Dean Wagenback, a 73-year-old retiree, sat at a table near the lunch counter.

“I’ve been coming here my whole life, my whole family has,” Wagenback said. “It’s a big part of my life, and I’m really upset about it.”

Wagenback said he visits Parker Drug two to three times a day, including for a “breakfast club” meeting in the mornings. He’s even received his mail at the store.

“I can’t imagine how many years I’ve been coming here,” Wagenback said. “My daddy used to bring me here. It’s the people I will miss more than anything else.”

Another longtime customer is Brett Carter, a Suffolk resident and IP mill worker who joins Wagenback for lunch. He orders two hamburgers and french fries every day.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” Carter said. “This is just as devastating to me as IP closing because I have been coming here for so long. I grew up here.”

When the rumors made it to the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Teresa Beale said she was “sick over it.”

“It’s such a piece of the community. It’s part of the fabric here,” he said. “The good news is that part of it will remain open for now.”

Canada said he understands people are upset by the decision to close the pharmacy and, possibly, the rest of the store too.

“I know there are probably a lot of people angry with me,” Canada said. “Hopefully down the road they’ll understand what I had to do. I feel apologetic to all the people in downtown Franklin. We’ve been through so much, and this is not going to help. (But) it was just the right time for me to make the move.”

He added, “I’m doing what I can to keep something in that building, whether it’s just the fountain and the gift shop, or some other business maybe will move in there. I want to make sure something stays in that building. Somebody could go in there and really turn it into something nice, maybe make the eating area larger. But I don’t have the money or the time to do something like that right now.”