After 29 years, first Columbia pharmacy closing Village center store bows to 'big boys'

December 29, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Columbia's first pharmacy will close its doors today in what some residents view as a sign of the decline of Columbia's village centers and their founding philosophy.

But Joe Yousem, owner of the Pharmacy at Wilde Lake, says his move from the 29-year-old pharmacy is more the result of increasingly stingy insurance companies. Independently owned pharmacies are finding it harder to turn a profit at a time when the health-care industry is cracking down on costs, he said.

Still, for Linda Nedzbala, a 29-year Harper's Choice resident, the closing of the pharmacy -- where Yousem knows most everyone by name -- is a symbol.

"I lament that the village centers certainly aren't what they were, and how can they be when people go to Target?" said Nedzbala, who remembers when the merchants used to have an annual Christmas open house complete with a Nativity scene in the village center.

"It's hard to compete with the big boys.

"You look at the old village centers [and] they are pretty much darned empty," Nedzbala said.

Janet Blumenthal, chairwoman of the Wilde Lake Village Board, said the village center concept is not dead.

Merchants, local leaders and Columbia Management Inc. officials are joining hands to bring new life to Wilde Lake.

She said Chesapeake Group, an economic development and market research firm, has been hired to conduct a consumer survey in early 1997 to find out what local consumers want at their village centers.

"We need a healthy village center with services that people need," Blumenthal said.

Wayne Christmann, the general manager who oversees the village centers for Columbia Management, said many changes will be taking place at the Columbia's first village center in the spring.

The changes include:

Columbia Bank will move into the space occupied by Ryding's Liquors. The liquor store -- there since 1967 -- will move into the space formerly occupied by Encore Books along the far back of the center.

The former NationsBank -- which closed late last fall -- will be replaced by a Blockbuster Video store. The store will expand into space now occupied by the pharmacy.

An existing smaller Blockbuster -- originally called Erol's Video -- will close, creating a vacancy. It will consolidate with the new Blockbuster store.

The beauty section of Anthony Richard's Barber and Beauty Salon will close, becoming just a barber shop. Great Clips, a new hair-cutting salon will move into space near Produce Galore.

Christmann said finding a new pharmacy to fill the void left by Yousem's departure "is at the top of our list." The center's anchor, Giant Foods, does not have a pharmacy.

For Yousem, his departure represents the slow death of independently owned pharmacies in the current health-care movement.

For the past two years his business has lost money, he said. The problems started in the early 1990s when federal government employees and retirees had their Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan modified, he said.

About 50 percent of Yousem's customers are on the program, which until 1992 paid pharmacies 80 percent of the retail value of the prescription drugs being sold.

In 1993, the insurer developed a pharmacy network in which pharmacies within five-mile radiuses bid on certain drugs and the network accepted the lowest price as its standard, said Janice Anderson, manager of Blue Cross/Blue Shield pharmacy policy for the federal employee program.

If insurance holders went outside the network, they had to pay 40 percent of the price of the drugs, Anderson said. If they stayed within the network, their cost was only 20 percent.

That program -- along with those of other health-care insurers -- meant that pharmacies had to limit the usual 30 percent mark-up on drugs, Yousem said.

Independently owned pharmacies "are going to be dinosaurs at some point," Yousem said. "The chains can handle it better because they can spread the expense over more stores."

What is troubling to so many residents, he says, is that they remember the pharmacy when it had a soda fountain and was the only place in Columbia for lunch.

Yousem said residents come in and say, "My 30-year-old daughter and I used to come in here every Friday and eat."

Yousem will be selling his inventory to the CVS in the Harper's Choice Village Center. After that, he will be looking for a job.

"Fortunately," he said, "pharmacists are in demand."

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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