Indie drug stores hang on

Kramer’s Pharmacy, in Mott Haven, has doled out prescriptions for more than 50 years.

Twelve independent Bronx drug stores met their demise in 2008, according to a congressional study published last month. There are now 654 chain drug stores in New York City, up from 165 in 1990. Are neighborhood drug stores in trouble?

“No way,” said Joseph Lizzul, proprietor of Simelson’s Square Pharmacy on Westchester Square. “That’s a misconception.”

According to Lizzul, chain expansions characterized the 1990s. Now neighborhood drug stores are mounting a comeback, he said. Simelson’s is 80 years old. Last summer, Lizzul opened a second store in Morris Park. Chain drug store Duane Reade recently abandoned Westchester Square.

“The drug stores that go out of business, probably deserve to go out of business,” Lizzul said. “They’re mom & pop drug stores, not strong, independent drug stores.”

What’s a strong, independent drug store?

“Like a chain, we carry everything from soup to nuts,” he said. “In smaller quantities, for less. The secret is low overhead. What Duane Reade sells for 99 cents, we sell for 88 cents.”

Not all neighborhood pharmacists share Lizzul’s optimism. Ray Macioci of Pilgrim Pharmacy in Pelham Bay believes the chains are still expanding.

“When I first came here, I could rattle off the names of nearby neighborhood pharmacies,” said Macioci. “Most are gone. Last year, 160 neighborhood pharmacies closed statewide.”

Macioci doesn’t blame the chains. He blames mail order, which many health insurance plans promote.

“The health insurance companies own mail order pharmacies,” Macioci said. “It’s self-referral. Neighborhood drug stores can’t compete.”

Prescriptions offer neighborhood drug stores an even playing field. Most customers use health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid; store-to-store, co-pays remain the same.

Chains accounted for 40 percent of pharmacy sales in 2007. Independents accounted for 18 percent. According to Macioci, neighborhood drug stores are today an urban phenomenon. Chains dominate the suburbs.

Are chain or neighborhood drug stores better? Ubaldo Eguino worked at Rite Aid from 1996 to 2000. Now he owns Throggs Neck Pharmacy. According to Eguino, chains wield buying power. Neighborhood drug stores boast superior service.

“A chain employee gets paid no matter what,” he said. “As a neighborhood owner, I need my customers..”

Eguino donates money to local causes. He pays for the Throggs Neck’s holiday lights. At chain drug stores, speed is king. According to a report released by Senator Jeff Klein, seniors whose drug store was a chain were four times more likely to receive the wrong medication.

Kramer’s Pharmacy has served Mott Haven for more than 50 years. It caters to older customers.

“People know us,” pharmacist Jacobo Kubiliun said. “We do favors. We deliver. We speak Spanish.”

Only 34 percent of NYC drug stores translate prescriptions daily, a 2007 Academy of Medicine survey revealed.

“Kramer’s is the best around,” said customer Nelson Galarza, 66. “I started coming here in 1965. I live three blocks away. Why go to a chain? Here, they treat me nice.”

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