The Cambrian

Abrupt end to long run for Cambria Village Pharmacy

Mollie Keister of Cambria, in blue jacket, reads a sign on the door at Cambria Village Pharmacy on Monday. Keister was a customer for 27 years.
Mollie Keister of Cambria, in blue jacket, reads a sign on the door at Cambria Village Pharmacy on Monday. Keister was a customer for 27 years. CAMBRIAN PHOTO BY BERT ETLING

Cambria is a one-pharmacy town again, after nearly 18 years of having two drug stores within a block of each other.

Cambria Village Pharmacy, 2306 Main St., abruptly closed its doors Saturday afternoon, June 16. Customers, patients, 10 employees and some fill-in part-timers apparently had no advance notice the pharmacy was going to close.

A sign on the door of the store — also known for its vast array of rubber ducks — advises customers that “Effective immediately, Cambria Village Pharmacy will no longer be in business” and that their records and prescription orders have been transferred to Cambria Drug&Gift, 2222 Main St.

John Headding, pharmacist- owner of Cambria Drug & Gift, said the full transition of client prescriptions and information may take a couple of days, but “hopefully it will be seamless it will be business as usual, with just more people” to serve.

“Business has gotten difficult now,” Headding said. “It’s hard for small businesses to survive in this climate.”

Village Pharmacy pharmacist Mary Phillips, who has been on vacation for a week, said Tuesday that she said she knew nothing in advance about the closure. If pharmacist-owner Dana Nelson had asked her advice on how to do it, she said, she’d have recommended he do things differently, such as notifying pharmacy customers and employees ahead of time.

“We were just dumbfounded,” she said.

Village Pharmacy’s parent store, Health Plus Pharmacy in San Luis Obispo, remains open. Calls to that number on Monday morning, June 18, were answered by a recorded message from Nelson, owner of both businesses, talking about recent delays in filling, or partial filling, of prescriptions.

“A financial perfect storm has hit the good ship Health Plus,” Nelson says, leaving the pharmacy “briefly compromised” in its ability to serve the public. “We believe we’ve survived the worst of the storm, but we’re not in calm seas yet.”

He asks customers to order their prescription refills four to five days before they run out of the medication.

Reached by phone, Nelson said the “perfect storm” includes “the prices of drugs going up, payment (from insurers and Medicare) going down,” and some cash-strapped patients trying to save money by ordering online or from out of the country.

“As more and more people go off or lose their insurance benefits, fewer people are getting their prescriptions filled,” Nelson said, which can leave a small pharmacy in the fiscal lurch in competing with corporate pharmacies in such mega-stores as Walmart, CVS and Costco.

Nelson is also going through a divorce, which has also “taken its toll financially and spiritually,” he acknowledged.

He said he’s hopeful that Health Plus can survive, and that the closure of Cambria Village Pharmacy was “the sacrifice we had to make to see if we can keep this one going. We’ll know more in three to six months.” He said he tried to sell the Cambria store, and had four or five strong prospective buyers. However, none were able to get financing. “The banks just aren’t lending” for purchases such as that, he said. Nelson said he’ll really miss his Cambria friends and customers. “I’ve given more flu shots up there than you can imagine,” he said.

Nelson bought the Cambria Village Pharmacy business from George Keenan in 1996. Keenan said he believes there’s been a drug store at that corner since the 1940s.

Former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi said she’s sad about the drugstore closure, both for the community now and because of her recollections from the past. “I remember the store very fondly from high school (in 1946 to 1947),” she said. “The bus would let us off there, and we’d all congregate at the drug store.” She added she attributes its popularity as a gathering place to the soda fountain there the time.