Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11/08 The Closing of a Classic

I just heard a commercial this morning on the radio that Howard's
Rexall is closing. It's a classic downtown business establishment.
Between the current state of the economy and the building of the new
Rite-Aid close to downtown, I guess it was inevitable, but it's still

Here's the story from the Morning Sentinel:

Howard's Rexall to close Sept. 22
Staff Writer Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 09/09/2008

FARMINGTON -- After nearly 70 years, Howard's Rexall, the last
independent pharmacy in Farmington, will close its doors on Main
Street on Sept. 22.

But owners Robert Witt, 47, and his brother, James Witt IV, 53, won't
be far away. They may have sold the business to Rite Aid, which is
opening its new store on Main Street next week, but they will be two
of the four pharmacists there serving customers.

All of Howard's customer records will be transferred to Rite Aid, so
there will be no disruption in service, Jim Witt said.

"They assured us it will be a seamless transition. They are even
absorbing our phone number," he said.

Rite Aid has offered jobs at the same rate of pay to all 13
employees, he said.

In addition to the business, the Witts have sold the property to
Foothills Management owner William Marceau. The Farmington developer
says he is negotiating with a tenant interested in opening a small
grocery store in the 7,000-square-foot space. An additional section
of the building that looks out over the municipal parking lot that is
now used for storage is being eyed for a possible restaurant or
retail space.

Jim Witt said adding to the stress of being a small business owner
has been the reductions in reimbursements from private insurance
companies and federal Medicaid, while paperwork and regulations have

"Reimbursements are constantly falling. You get paid $5 for something
one month, a month later you get $4 for it and the next month, you
get $3.50. It happens on a daily basis," he said. "We were staying
afloat and could have stayed open but you get to a point where one
day, you aren't making any money and you can't pay your bills. We
were looking ahead to see what could be coming on the horizon.

"It is time for us to scale back and go back to being pharmacists
again," he said. "We figured we needed to get out of the business
while things were still going good."

Howard's has held its own against the chain pharmacies that opened in
Farmington including Wal-Mart, Hannaford and Rite Aid. The
competition forced the Witts to diversify. They tried expanding into
medical equipment and offered video rentals, groceries and beer- and
wine-making supplies. They were also a J.C. Penney service center,
they accept utility bill payments and are a UPS shipping agent.

But it was an uphill battle.

According to a study by the Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis
Center at the University of North Carolina, between May 2006 and
April 2008, 998 independently-owned rural pharmacies in the United
States closed; during the same time, 495 opened, resulting in a net
loss of 503 independently-owned rural pharmacies.

"There is certainly a trend where independent pharmacies are closing
and reductions in MaineCare reimbursement rates are to blame," Robert
Morrissette, president of Pharmacy Group of New England, said Monday.
The organization is a buying group that represents dozens of
independent pharmacies in Maine.

He said there is a trend toward independent pharmacies closing and a
study from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food
Marketing Institute indicates more than 11,000 pharmacies in the
country are at risk of closing due to reductions in reimbursement rates.

The Witts typify hometown pharmacists who pride themselves on
service. They know customers by name and have the time to talk to
patients and answer questions, whether about a prescription or a
health problem.

"That won't change," Witt said. "In fact, I think we'll have more
time to talk to customers. We're hoping the majority of our customers
will stay with us."

Howard's was opened by South Paris pharmacist and businessman Charles
Howard in the 1940s. It was originally located next door where Trask
Jeweler's is now. It was staffed by pharmacist Merton Clifford and
then by his son, Gordon, according to local historian Paul Mills.

Kenneth Wiles bought it in the 1950s and it was purchased by James
Witt III in 1972. An earlier drug store, Marr's, was on that block
from the early 1900s and Mills' research shows there was a pharmacy
there as long ago as 1803.

Retrieved 9/10/08 from

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