After 30 Year Run, Medicine Shoppe Announces Closure

Owner blames "out of town and out of state" mail-order companies and low insurance reimbursements on decision to go out of business

The Medicine Shoppe, the last independent pharmacy in Petaluma, has announced that it’s closing effective October, 9, citing the loss of contracts with Sonoma County and other large employers.

The decision to close the Washington Street pharmacy, open for more than 30 years, was announced Wednesday by owner Jamil Harb in a letter to customers.

“Over the last four years, the competitive pressures in pharmacy have taken a toll on our ability to maintain this pharmacy as a viable business,” Harb wrote.

“The decision of several local payers, including the County of Sonoma, that have mandated their employees to obtain prescriptions from out of town and out of state mail order companies, were the biggest culprit…This, along with decreased reimbursements from insurance companies, have caused me to make one of the most difficult decisions in my life.”

The news comes as shock to customers, many of whom viewed pharmacy staff as family and appreciated their willingness to fulfill complex orders. That includes preparing compound prescriptions, in which different prescriptions are combined or their strengths altered to accommodate a patient’s needs, the only pharmacy in Petaluma to offer such a service.

The impending closure means that patients relying on unique formulas will now have to travel to Santa Rosa or San Rafael to obtain compounded prescriptions.

“It's a real bummer,” said Petaluma resident Christopher Fisher. “My wife and I, and many other families we know moved over to the Medicine Shoppe in recent years, specifically to support local alternatives to corporate and chain stores, which send most or their proceeds out of the community. As far as I can tell, there are no more local alternatives for pharmaceuticals, a sad state of affairs for a community of 60,000."

Owner Jamil Harb was out of the country and not available to comment, but head pharmacist Alvin Lee said that seven employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure. More than that, Lee bemoaned the closure of a small, independent pharmacy that has had a hard time competing with giants like CVS and Walgreens.

“Small, independent pharmacies go out of their way to accommodate their customers, but they are also a dying breed,” Lee said. “We don’t pump out 1,000 prescriptions a day while trying to cut labor. Imagine trying to find time to consult a patient when the demand at a chain requires your time to be spent more on filling. We staff enough so that we get prescriptions done so the pharmacist can spend time looking at interactions and optimizing therapy. At CVS and the national chains, it’s all about the numbers.”

Despite the closure of the brick and mortar location, Lee wants to continue offering consulations to all existing customers via his website www.pharmycare.com, built originally to consult the pharmacy's diabetic patients. 

Through the site, patients will be able to get online consultations about pharmacy-related issues and obtain general health information.

Did you get your prescriptions at Medicine Shoppe? How will the closure impact you?

David Devoto September 21, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Sad. The odds are stacked against small business lately, it seems. Between the growth of government and what it requires from businesses', diminishing competitiveness for small banks, clothing stores, (go on and on and on), the writing is on the wall. We should cherish the small business that remains.
Frank Simpson September 21, 2012 at 02:03 AM
For what it is worth, Jamil Harb was also a pioneer in promoting the proper disposal of unused prescription drugs and medications. He was an advocate for such efforts to help keep drugs out of our water supply and was one of the first locations that accepted these items in Petaluma at no charge,. He covered the full cost of recycling.
Lynda Ann Howerton September 21, 2012 at 04:41 AM
I am so sad;-((. They were the only pharmacy that went to bat for me with WC.. I just don't know what to do. I left CVS because they are so inept ...
David Keller September 21, 2012 at 05:26 AM
It is really sad to see The Medicine Shoppe and their jobs and talents disappearing from our community. Unfortunately, we'll be seeing much more of this as mega-chains like Target and other tenants of Regency and Deer Creek malls arrive in our city. Their job is to take market share away from existing businesses, and even their own predictions show them taking over $15 Million in sales from other businesses already in town. That's a lot of lost money. Those are real job loss, real losses of local businesses, real losses of local profit-making ventures. Even K-Mart and Orchard Supply were identified as likely to be put out of business here. As we can see with The Medicine Shoppe, predatory pricing by major chains will doom too many more small businesses which are so much of what we love about living and working in Petaluma.
Longest Family in Electrical in Petaluma September 21, 2012 at 01:35 PM
This will continue to happen, if our Community does not fully support it's local businesses.
mikeg55 September 21, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I don't even know where the Medicine Shoppe was. K-Mart deserves to go out of business and I'll take a Friedmans over that tiny OSH any day. Businesses fail if they can't compete. It is the public at large, not anti-big box zealots, that will decide what businesses will thrive or fail in Petaluma. See you at the Target opening!!!
Bill Fishman September 21, 2012 at 05:38 PM
It's interesting, Dave, that in this case it is the government trying to shrink itself rather than expand that has contributed to the loss of a valued business. I refer to the County of Sonoma's medical coverage encouraging employees to buy their drugs online. I sit on the advisory committee of a local community bank and we have observed this paradox. As business and professional people we want and expect that government, from local to federal, will conduct itself with the same prudence that we try to apply in our own endeavors. But that can come back to bite when a company does business with the government or government employees. For example, a County agency that used to simply issue a Purchase Order for routine hardware items now has to shop the items to assure that it is getting the best price. Caltrans had the new Bay Bridge fabricated in China rather than paying more for domestic steel. That's the good news; and its the bad news. From defense spending on down, like it or not, "the government" is a significant American customer.
Mark Burger September 21, 2012 at 05:50 PM
This is sad. To see a competent competitor, independent pharmacist go out of business. But, for patients who need COMPOUNDED MEDICATIONS, please feel free to tell them that they can transfer COMPOUNDED MEDICATIIONS to Health First! Pharmacy & Compounding Center. We'll mail the Rxs and they get there the next day. Have patients call us at 707.837.7948. We'll take care of them.
Karina Ioffee September 21, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Thanks for this, Mark. Good to know what patients' options are locally.
Betty Harrison September 21, 2012 at 09:17 PM
This is awful. I don't want my life controlled by the corporate bottom line.
Active Thinker September 23, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Another awesome business closes its doors. CVS is so bad to deal with. People always loved the MS and it is truly local. Sorry to see it go.
Anonymous September 24, 2012 at 02:20 PM
It is risky to get your prescriptions filled at CVS because (1) In order to increase their bsiness, they automatically refill prescriptions that had been dicontinued or dose-changed by your doctor (2) They overwork their pharnacist so the poor guys cannot consult patients, their ratio of pharmacists:technician in almost ALL CVS is illegal agaisnt the Ca Board of Pharmacy Business & Professional Code (3) They sell expired merchandise (4) If their pharmacist spend time counseling he will hear from his District Manager. CVS run its own insurance and make it mandatory to go to their outlets or go to mail orders, most patients cannot stand to dog-treatment they receive at CVS. It is embarassing that in a "free" society these crooks are allowed to thrive. NO BODY CARES. If every employee walks up to his personnel benefit department and says 'I WANT MY FREEDOM to buy locally and not go to crooks" these travesties in our cities would not occur!
Mark Guttormsen September 25, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Needless to say its a very difficult time for independents in all fields; its so important to buy local and sustain/create jobs in the community. Independent pharmacy does provide a unique experience versus the retail chains. Patients who are impacted by this closure and need assistance can contact Dollar Drug in Santa Rosa for their custom compound prescriptions. Anchored by two pharmacists that live in Petaluma, Frank Hench and Mark Guttormsen, Dollar Drug has been compounding since 1984 and already services many fellow Petalumans by mail and at the store. 575-1313


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