Small town corner drug store to reopen

Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012 in News

Small town corner drug store to reopen

The holiday snowflake outside the former Waltz Drug in Waldoboro is lit, though the store remains dark ... for now.

By Steve Cartwright

WALDOBORO -- Last month, Waltz Drug in Waldoboro closed down for the first time in a century. Shocked residents who depend on the business expressed dismay. But hope sprung up as word spread that an independent pharmacy chain might re-open the business as early as January 2nd, 2013.

It's true. Community Pharmacies of Maine, which operates 10 drug stores in southern, central and downeast areas, has agreed to re-open the venerable Waldoboro drugstore. Joe Bruno, who heads the Augusta based company, said, "When I went and visited the store, I fell in love with it, and its location."

"We're a Maine company. We'll match prices (of chain drugstores) if we have to, to keep customers," Bruno said.

Unlike the national chains Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS, "We don't carry beer, we don't carry liquor, we don't carry cigarettes," he said. "We focus on people's health."

A one-time pharmacist at LaVerdiere's - a Maine chain bought out by Rite Aid - Bruno founded his company in 1998 and it's staffed and partly owned by ex-Rite-Aide pharmacists. Bruno himself worked at Rite Aid for nine months.

Rite Aid in Damariscotta has advertised to attract former Waltz Drug customers and reportedly hired a couple of the seven Waltz Drug employees from Waldoboro. Other former workers could be rehired under Community Pharmacy management.

Long-time Waldoboro pharmacist Ted Wooster, a town selectman and son of a local pharmacist, will continue at the Community Pharmacy, working alongside Brandon Archibald, a pharmacist from the company's Gorham store.

For many generations this shipbuilding, clamming and farming town has been home to an independent drug store. Clark Drug, later known as Waltz Drug, served the town and surrounding towns. Recent figures show the store filling 1,000 or more prescriptions each week, plus selling other medicines and sundries.

Dean Jacobs, representing a family that once operated several drugstores from Damariscotta to Camden, said he closed his final retail outlet in Waldoboro to focus on a Brunswick business that supplies drugs to nursing homes. He also complained about the decreasing reimbursements under Medicare.

Bruno said the reimbursements are down but it's still possible to run a successful business, his being a case in point. "We're not out to get rich," Bruno said. "It is a lot tougher." He said 95 percent of Mainers rely on a third-party reimbursement, while just 5 percent pay in full. Insurance companies often insist on certain big-box chain drugstores at the expense of independent pharmacies. "Most insurance companies don't care," he said.

Employees at the Waldoboro store said Jacobs gave little or no warning of the closing. Several newspaper stories pointed out Waldoboro residents are currently left without any drug store. But the closing also affects the neighboring towns of Friendship, Warren, Union, Jefferson and Bremen as well. None of these have, or are near to, another drug store.

Bruno said he is confident the store will succeed and help boost Waldoboro's downtown business center. He is a former state legislator who was House Republican Leader.

Local people say that a locally owned store in a town center is more than just a place to buy stuff. It's a meeting place, common ground where you can chat and renew ties to your neighbors. It is key to that sense of place that gives a community its identity.

The nearest drug stores are in Damariscotta and Rockland. Those stores are chain Rite Aids but if you live in Waldoboro or Friendship, you'd need transportation to get there. A Hannaford's supermarket in Damariscotta also has a pharmacy.

The "new" Community Pharmacy will join the Village Bakery and Cafe, The Narrows Tavern, the Medomak River Community Market and the Tidemark Gallery, all of which have opened in the past few years, perhaps foreshadowing the waking up of Waldoboro's sleepy village economy.

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