For the past few weeks, customers at Community Drug in Greenfield have been hugging pharmacist Dave Hairhoger, saying they don't know what they're going to do after Saturday, when the doors at 517 Greenfield Ave. -- a pharmacy since 1917 -- will close.
By mid-summer, it will be Giant Eagle's first corporate compounding pharmacy and Mr. Hairhoger will be custom-mixing prescriptions for the food chain's pharmacies.
In this era of disappearing mom-and-pop retail, this transition has an ironic twist and a happier ending than you find behind most "closed" signs.
"Interestingly enough," said Mr. Hairhoger, "this place will go back to being what pharmacies were in 1917," when McMillin's Pharmacy opened on the site and pharmacists customized every prescription.
To his patrons, though, history is more personal than that. They were "shocked," "sad" and "bummed" at the news, they said. Community Drug -- which sells everything you'd expect of a drug store and a limited array of groceries -- is "a part of our lives," said Donna Connors, a born-and-raised Greenfielder.
"They know you here," said Betty Sheridan. "They know your voice on the phone."
"This is a beautiful little store," said Loretta Kish, indicating a shelf. "Lookie, he even has Steelers stuff. They had everything I needed for my baby shower."
One afternoon last week, the place was crowded. Almost everything was a buy-one-get-one. Mr. Hairhoger patted one patron and said, "Don't cry."
He is ending a 30-year run, having bought the pharmacy from the second generation of original owners and quickly establishing the store as a community center. It was the site of hot-dog fundraisers for various causes and the annual "parade of pets," for which he got a permit to close off two blocks. He got his immunization license so he could give shots.
Giant Eagle's interest in his property presented a unique opportunity, he said.
Custom-mixed prescriptions -- or compounds -- are necessary when dosages are not packaged commercially or when the means by which they are taken has to be reconfigured, such as a cream instead of a pill. A child who needs a cardiac drug might need a compounded prescription. Some veterinary medication must be compounded, said Randy Heiser, vice president of pharmacy for Giant Eagle.
All Giant Eagle pharmacies do some compounding, he said, but most pharmacists don't do it that often. "We think it's better to have all the focused knowledge in one location," with Mr. Hairhoger as the lead consultant, he said. "This is a way to get prescriptions that need more attention out of the everyday work flow."
Mr. Hairhoger will train two pharmacists and two or three technicians to get the pharmacy started, said Mr. Heiser, adding that Giant Eagle hasn't decided yet whether the store will be open for walk-in business or how many compounding pharmacies it may eventually open.
Of his decision to end his entrepreneurial run, Mr. Hairhoger said, "The pharmacy industry has changed. Prescriptions used to be the profit area, but now insurance reimbursements do not take into account our knowledge and the services we provide, like delivering a half-gallon of milk. We are wrapped in a cost-per-capsule world" that does not match real costs.
The happy ending, of sorts, is that The 509 Cafe, 509 Greenfield Ave., is buying the drug store's cooler and slush machine and will be selling many items Community Drug has sold. "I asked them if they would," said Mr. Hairhoger. "We have a number of elderly residents who depend on being able to walk to buy bread and milk."
Sandy Halloran, a cook at the cafe, said the dining portion of the business will be reconfigured for groceries. "We want to be there for the neighborhood," she said.
When Mr. Hairhoger bought the store fresh out of the University of Pittsburgh's pharmacy school, he said, "I had a manual typewriter, a phone and a 70-year-old woman who worked for me. Business is always changing, but this has been a great, fulfilling experience. People go through a career forever and don't get back the appreciation I have gotten in the past two weeks."
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her City Walkabout blog at post-gazette.com/localnews. First Published February 1, 2010 5:00 AM