Pharmacist sells Long Reach store to big chain Customers hope personal touch stays EAST COLUMBIA

January 12, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Les Feldman has helped Elizabeth Antonsen's family through many health crises in the 19 years since he opened the Long Reach Village Pharmacy.

But with the Jan. 3 sale of the business to an out-of-state pharmacy chain, she and other customers hope they will continue to get personal service.

"Les was instrumental before my husband passed away. He was my right arm," says Ms. Antonsen, 56, a 20-year Long Reach village resident. "I could call on him for anything."

Ralph Antonsen suffered from diabetes and heart problems. Ms. Antonsen also cared for an ailing mother-in-law, Emma Antonsen, for 13 years before she died, and still cares for her mother, Betty Schempp, who has asthma and health problems associated with aging.

Ms. Antonsen calls Mr. Feldman her "lifeline" in her efforts to care for the elderly parents.

Mr. Feldman, known as "Doc" to his customers, has been not only a pharmacist, but also a friend and trusted adviser for the Antonsen family. Ms. Antonsen says it saddens her that Mr. Feldman sold his family-style Long Reach pharmacy, which opened the day the village center opened in 1974, to Rhode Island-based CVS.

But she says she will remain his customer at the two other pharmacies Mr. Feldman operates in Columbia.

"What is sad is when you have 20 years and become such a part of the community, and then you leave," says Ms. Antonsen, who was known simply as "Mrs. A" by pharmacy employees. "When you walked in there, that was your family. We grew with him."

Mr. Feldman completed the sale of the Long Reach pharmacy last week to CVS, which operates pharmacies in the Washington and Baltimore areas under the name Peoples Drug Stores.

Mr. Feldman says the market around Long Reach has become "over-saturated with retail outlets" since Dobbin Center opened in the mid-1980s. The family-owned pharmacy had difficulty competing against Kmart and F & M Distributors, which both have pharmacies.

Also, insurance companies have reduced their reimbursements for prescriptions, cutting profits for pharmacies, says Mr. Feldman.

"The pie was too small for two large discount stores and a pharmacy," he says. "It's an ongoing problem. Many independent dealers are going out of business. You can't exist on just a pharmacy and selling professional services if insurance companies decide to cut reimbursements."

Mr. Feldman, 48, will continue to operate Feldman's Medical Center Pharmacy at the Columbia Medical Center building and Feldman's Dorsey Hall Pharmacy next to the Allview Inn. The Long Reach pharmacy was more of a community store, stocking cosmetics, hardware, toys, greeting cards and school supplies, according to seasonal demand.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Feldman worked behind and in front of the counter at the Columbia Medical Center pharmacy at an energetic pace.

He asked one woman if she had a prescription card, warning her that the drugs would cost $50 to $60 and that he didn't want her to be shocked. The woman didn't have an insurance card, so he reduced the price by $10, saying insurance would have given him that reduction.

"I always wanted to be competitive. I never wanted anyone to think I was gouging them," says Mr. Feldman, a Columbia resident since 1970.

"I tried to give service," he says of his Long Reach store. "If you couldn't care for the customer, why should you be there?"

Mr. Feldman wouldn't disclose how much CVS paid for the store. CVS spokesman Fred McGrail says the company bought the store because it likes the Columbia location and because Mr. Feldman had established a strong customer base.

Mrs. Antonsen says she's willing to give Peoples a chance.

"I hope they are able to bring to the people the same thing Les did," she says.

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