You know a movement has traction when you can sum it up in two words: buy local. Now more than ever there’s a renewed interest in supporting locally-owned independent businesses in the face of big box retailers and certain price-slashing online Goliaths which shall remain nameless. Pharmacists Beth Dewan and Genevieve Levans, owners of the independent Falls Pharmacy couldn’t agree more, even as they closed their doors for good on Thursday after 12 years of serving East Falls.
“Support any local business whether there’s a butcher, whether it’s the pizza place, anything. They give the local people jobs and that’s what I think is so important,” Levans said. Falls Pharmacy has been exactly the kind of business everyone hopes will benefit from recent buy local initiatives.
A mom-and-mom shop
“We’re a mom and mom,” Dewan said. Literally. During the course of the pharmacy’s life span both women have married and had children, pictures of whom were proudly displayed in the store. The business grew alongside their two families, and like their families (both women grew up in the greater Philadelphia area and currently reside in Roxborough) had a vested interest in the neighborhood and the people who live there.
“We paid our local taxes, we paid our employees that were local and put money back in [to the community]. The chains don’t really do that.” Levans takes pride in the pharmacy’s direct investment in East Falls. “Everybody that has worked for us has lived within walking distance.”
Mail order competition
While local support for Falls Pharmacy remained strong through its last day, it was the lack of statewide support, which influenced the owners’ decision to close. As a growing number of insurance companies institute mandatory mail order prescriptions, it has become increasingly difficult for brick-and-mortar pharmacies to compete. Mail order pharmacies offer drugs at a lower cost and can fill a 90-day prescription. In contrast, community pharmacies often pay more for drugs at a wholesale level, making their retail prices higher, and are limited to filling 30-day prescriptions. In addition, insurance companies that don’t mandate mail order often incentivize it by instituting lower co-pays for that particular plan option. The bottom line is that it can cost many consumers more to patronize a brick-and-mortar pharmacy provided their insurance even allows it.
There were two bills in the Pennsylvania State Legislature, House Bill 511 and Senate Bill 201, designed to stop insurers and third party administrators of prescription drug programs called Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), from mandating the use of mail order pharmacies or offering incentives which in effect promote them. Despite a lobbying effort from independent pharmacies across the state, the legislation is currently languishing in Harrisburg, with HB 511 officially tabled in July.
The stalled legislation doesn’t bode well. “I think it’s going to be really rough in the next 5 to 10 years for retail pharmacy,” Levans said. In order to make the best of a grim economic outlook, Dewan and Levans decided to sell. Several businesses came forward to buy out Falls Pharmacy, but the owners decided to sell to Rite-Aid on the condition that the chain would take care of the local employees. Jobs have been provided for Levans and Dewan as well as two other technicians who worked at Falls.
According to Levans, customers were sad to see the pharmacy close, but relieved to learn that the two pharmacists they’ve come to know over the years will remain nearby. Levans will go to work at the Rite-Aid in Chestnut Hill, while Dewan will make the short hop to the Midvale Avenue Rite-Aid.
Although newly employed by a chain retailer, Levans and Dewan haven’t lost their determination to support other mom-and-pop or mom-and-mom businesses. “Even though we’re going to Rite-Aid, we’ll probably still go to independents.”