I Publius: Independent pharmacies now a rarity

What a shock. Bill’s pharmacy, the hub of Great Barrington, is selling to the giant CVS chain.

I am going to be honest with you. I love Steve Bannon, who owns the store as his father, Bill, did before him. Steve is the best our community has to offer. He has, for example, put 11 years in on the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, nine of them as chairman.

He says he would love to keep doing that if the voters of Great Barrington will allow him to. He had been giving it his all for 27 years.

It’s hard to believe that he was once in Roselle’s social studies class at Monument Mountain.

If there is a single place in Great Barrington where people go to gather, it is Bill’s.

We all know Steve and his employees at the pharmacy. Many of us want to support local businesses as a priority.

Many of us just like Steve, who has always been there for us, night and day. To us, the sale of the pharmacy is like a death in the family.

There is something important and magical about an independent pharmacy. It has real advantages, among them, privacy.

Many people who take prescription medication don’t wish that fact advertised in every computer in every chain store across the country.

There has never been a question about the personal and professional ethics of Steve or of his staff. He once assured me that nobody on his staff would ever violate my trust because if anyone did, it would be their last day on the job.

Once there were four different independent pharmacies in Great Barrington alone. Now it will be CVS, Rite Aide and Price Chopper.

In discussing the plight of the independent pharmacy, Steve told me that the small guy can’t compete with big chains who are offering major prescriptions for $5 as “loss leaders” to get people into their stores. If Steve were to do that, he would actually lose money on those pills.
The good news is, I have checked around and heard only positive things about the way in which CVS does business.

Steve made it plain that he doesn’t want to continue working once the store changes hands, unlike folks like Tommy Andrews of Andrews Insurance who remained at work after selling his firm to Great Barrington Savings Bank.

He wanted to make sure his staff would be taken care of and while he paid more than the chains do, their benefits are better and things even out.

He employs four pharmacists with an average annual salary of around $100,000. We are talking a hell of a payroll. He owns the building thanks to a helping hand from his friend Steve Picheny and he can now retire.

My hope is that we will soon have a national health insurance program that will pay for the drugs our doctors prescribe. Things can not go on the way they are.

In fact, my provider just made the unilateral decision that they would no longer pay for Nexium, one of the most important drugs on the market and one of the most popular. For those people suffering from GERD or worse, this drug has proven a life-saver.

As long as the insurance companies are calling the shots, patients’ well-being will be secondary to the almighty buck. The venality of the drug companies is undeniable with their legions of lobbyists and their constant advertising.

Things have gotten so out-of-hand that the required co-pays are now more than some folks on fixed incomes can afford.

I guess we are moving into new territory. Once there were four independent pharmacies and now there are none.

Many of us want to shop locally, but it’s getting harder and harder to do.
There have been many local businesses that have come and gone since we arrived in 1970 but this one is tough to take.

We’ll miss Bill’s as we missed Mel’s and the lunch counters that used to be in them.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/10/09

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