They're simply the best: Our annual salute to independent pharmacies

October 10, 2005

Raising the bar—that's what some independent pharmacies do. Through their stellar performance, they set an example for others to follow.

Raising the bar-that's what some independent pharmacies do. Through their stellar performance, they set an example for others to follow.

To find out who these top-drawer pharmacies are, once again Drug Topics invited wholesalers across the United States to nominate their independent pharmacy customers that excel in four categories: providing top-notch pharmacy and nonpharmacy services, merchandising or promoting their stores, overcoming competition, and handling crises. Our questionnaire drew more than 50 nominees this year.

Here is a look at some of the pharmacies that are considered a cut about the rest:

Ye Olde Medicine Center may conjure up thoughts of an antiquated pharmacy, but owner Laurie Larson, R.Ph., is anything but old-fashioned.

Larson, who founded the pharmacy in 1977 in Park River, N.D., where she grew up, went back to school after becoming a pharmacist. She wanted to learn about disease management so that she could expand the pharmacy's services. She has also expanded the size of her pharmacy to accommodate pharmacy students who come to complete their rotation from North Dakota State University.

"Customers started coming because they saw that we were doing things that were helping them," said Larson. Ye Olde Medicine Center offers daily blood sugar, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c screenings, and the pharmacy has set aside an area for patients to check their blood pressure. In addition, asthma education is available on an as-needed basis.

Although Larson charges a fee for screenings, she said, "It's more of a service. We charge enough to cover the cost of the cassettes, but not the cost of the pharmacist who sits and visits with them for half an hour."

Larson employs seven people in Park River, and she also owns a pharmacy in Cavalier, N.D., where she has five employees. "It's a small town, and we're the only place you can UPS or Fed Ex out of the town. We also do copies and faxes for people," she said.

In this town of 1,600 people, Larson enjoys knowing the names of her customers and even their dogs. "We have three vet clinics in town and do a lot of veterinary prescriptions. When customers come to our drive-up window, the kids get balloons and the dogs get doggie treats," she said.

Larson, who doesn't think twice about cashing personal checks for local teens or allowing store charge accounts for customers, is considering offering digital photo services in the future. "We are looking at some of the machines, and that may be part of our next expansion," she said. For now, she relies heavily on print and radio advertising to promote her pharmacy.

Larson is now busy educating patients on the new Medicare law. "It's the No. 1 thing I talk to people about. Two years ago when Medicare discount cards started, explaining them was a huge part of my job," she said.

To sum it up, Larson's nominator offered the following words that helped land Larson on Drug Topics' pages: "In the beginning, she practiced her idea of what pharmacy should be on the few patients that she had and the news spread that there was a pharmacy where people were concerned with the needs and health of their patients."

Tracey Knapp, R.Ph., grew up in a rural area in the Finger Lakes region of New York and attended pharmacy school in Boston. But when it came time to practice pharmacy, she jumped at the chance to return close to home. She bought Water Street Pharmacy in Dundee, N.Y., from the owner, who retired after 35 years.

"I always wanted to own my own pharmacy, and I like being able to help people on a one-to-one basis and know everybody by name," said Knapp, who bought the pharmacy in March 2004. Pointing out that Water Street Pharmacy is 100 years old and that it is the only pharmacy in town, she said she has already seen sales increase by 10%.