In their hey-day, independently-owned pharmacies filled Covington, offering their customers personalized service, home delivery, charge accounts and a community gathering spot.
With the closing of Chip's Health Mart, which was bought out recently by CVS, the independent pharmacist is nearly history in Newton County. Chip McClanahan, who transferred his business to CVS's U.S. Highway 278 location, was the last of the longstanding independent pharmacists in town, a holdout from a different time in business when individual relationships trumped huge customer bases.
"We focused on personalized service. We had delivery service and charge accounts. People depended on us each day to get them their medications. We probably had at least 20 deliveries a day," McClanahan said. "We tried to set ourselves apart from other drug stores. We also offered compounding, specialized medication compounding, and were of the only ones in area."
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"We would take raw products, the powders, and mix them to create ointments and medications specifically for individual cases," he said. "For people who would have trouble swallowing pills, we could make them a liquid form instead."
Margaret Dennis was one of McClanahan's first customers, and she's stuck with him for the past 25 years because of that service and his personality.
"I've been a customer of Chip's for a long time. I sure have," said Dennis, 70. When asked why, she said "Because he was a very nice person, and I could charge my medicine. I was able to pay him after my check came every month."
Living alone and having no way to travel, Dennis also appreciated the delivery service which brought her arthritis medicine every day.
"He just knew had to treat people, poor people. Yes he was a good man," she said, noting that she's following him to CVS along with most of his customers.
Barbara Morgan is the general manager of Morgan Plaza, where McClanahan made his living for so many years, and she said it was easy to see why the pharmacy was so popular.
"You felt like you were going to a family reunion when you walked into the door. It was the personal attention and relationship that made all of the difference in the world at Chips' business versus the chain stores," she said.
As the owner of City Pharmacy on the square from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, Phil Stone loves talking old-time pharmacies and he can rattle off the list of them around during his time, including Dick Bellairs and Walter Pope's pharmacy, People's Drug Store, City Pharmacy, Davis Pharmacy, Professional Court Pharmacy, Hardeman's Prescription Shop, Medical Arts Pharmacy and, a little later on, Chip's Medicine Shoppe, the name and franchise under which McClanahan first opened his business.
At one point, he said there were three of four pharmacies on the square. City Pharmacy was iconic for its classic soda fountain that was a mainstay of decades gone by.
"We're losing a lot," Stone said, noting that pharmacies are going the way of many mom-and-pop small business operations. "We used to talk to every customer, and I still run into customers of mine from way back, and I still reminisce and talk about how we used to get up in the middle of the night to get medicine for their children.
"I don't think anyone would argue the service level of independent pharmacies is the same as chains, not that the pharmacists at chains are bad people, they just have such a volume demand required of them, which is what has made it harder for the independent stores to stay around. Most prescriptions are covered by business insurance and government contracts and you have to fill a lot of prescriptions cheaply at a very large margin to make it work."
Citizen's Express Pharmacy, located on Tate Street, has been open for more than a year and appears to be the last independently-owned pharmacy in town.
While McClanahan's business was still successful, at 61 years of age he said he wanted to spend more time with his family, something that was difficult as small business owner.
"There are mixed feelings, because we'll miss the situation at the store for all of these years with the camaraderie and the family atmosphere and the service provided; there is just a void there that can never be replaced," he said. "But with CVS, it's going to give me more freedom with my family and opportunity to travel and do a few more things.
"They were nice enough to let me extend my career and continue to work with them as a pharmacist along with Randy Eakins... I want to make sure to tell everybody thank you for the support and friendship that they've given us all these years and thanks to CVS for the opportunity."