Commentary: The greatest pharmacy in the world

December 11, 2009

One man's fantasy of the ultimate pharmacy leads him down memory lane.

At this store, all profits go to the employees. All shifts are double-staffed. Greatest Pharmacy pays for leased cars. The lead technician drives a BMW roadster. (I said big Lotto prize.)

I don't need to work for a living. I only come in when I want to have some fun. When the staff sees me coming, it's embarrassing. The adulation. The applause. The kisses on my cheek. The party in the opulent staff lounge. The cook who prepares the staff's meals gets to work on a vegetarian lasagna. The old-fashioned ice-cream counter starts giving away ice-cream sodas.

So I quit. The exchange rate was so good in 1976 that my hotel room in Athens, with a private bath, was less than $4.00 a night. I spent evenings on Mykonos with an archeologist from New Zealand. Thanksgiving I drank vin ordinaire and ate bread and cheese on the train to the French Riviera. I spent Christmas in a hotel in a snowy Swiss village.

I had already had a cover story in Drug Topics. That gave me confidence for the next dream. I would be a novelist. I never worked more than 20 hours a week for 5 years. I wrote novels. Bad novels. When I published one in 1982 I was royally cheated when the publisher sold the book in Europe without my permission. The best one was written in Vermont. It is on a disk, in a drawer. Agents are hard to get. I didn't try hard enough.

My pharmacy dream is latent now. The Greatest Pharmacy fantasy is more fun than should be allowed to a guy whose first drugstore job was as an apprentice in 1956. What about your dream?

A girl in Washington State said, "I want my own store, Jim, but my student loan is so big that I just don't dare." Bingo! Student debt. The savior of CVS! How many kids would bail out of Wal-Mart after a few years if they were debt-free?

The period we are entering will be a renaissance for the private drugstore. The number of prescriptions to be filled will increase exponentially in coming decades. The chains saw this coming years ago. Two words. Baby Boomers! They refuse to get old. They want to stay youthful, vibrant, and sexy for the whole ride. That means lots of drugs! The first drug designed just for them was Viagra. There will be more.

I don't see success in starting a store under the old prescriptions-first model. It will take a paradigm-busting vision. You'll need a niche business that provides something valuable that is not available at Rite-Aid. Compounding is nothing novel, but a choice.

My friend Elliott started in the 1920s and did well. Cosmetics and then photography were better profit centers than Rx. RxJoe in Boston left CVS and now has it his way. Rick and Marge on Lopez Island in the San Juans have their dream. My friend Nathan is a smart rat. He left Seattle and went home to North Dakota, where pharmacies must be majority-owned by pharmacists. That's the law.

There is a chance for you. Your dream can come true. But not if you stay anesthetized. All you have to do is wake up. Trust me.

Jim Pilagakis is a community pharmacist in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at jpgakis@hotmail.com and cc us at drugtopics@advanstar.com. You can also visit his website at http://jimplagakis.com/.