Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor Pharmacy"

Celebrating a Long History at Sag Harbor Pharmacy

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Owners Barry and Susan Marcus in front of Sag Harbor Pharmacy

Owners Barry and Sue Marcus in front of Sag Harbor Pharmacy

By Tessa Raebeck

When you walk into CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreens, no one knows your name. A store in New York looks the same as a store in Wisconsin or Georgia, just another link in the corporate chain.

Here in Sag Harbor, however, the local pharmacy is just that – local. At Sag Harbor Pharmacy, not only does the staff know their customers, they know their friends, family and favorite brand of hairspray, too.

“People like their local independent pharmacy,” says owner Barry Marcus, who runs the store with his wife Sue. “Where we know everybody by first name and we pride ourselves on being a friendly, independent pharmacy.”

The oldest pharmacy on Long Island – and likely in the state – Sag Harbor Pharmacy has been a staple in the village since 1859. Throughout its lifespan, it has operated out of its original building and in its same location, 120 Main Street.

Because it was put up before modern historic district regulations were enacted, Sag Harbor Pharmacy is allowed to keep the store’s neon sign, historic in its own right. Thanks to Marcus, it was recently illuminated for the first time in some 40 years.

“I’m probably the 20th owner of the store,” Marcus, who has owned the pharmacy for nearly thirteen years, said in between greeting regulars and filling prescriptions Thursday.

Although the previous 19 owners were good at serving Sag Harbor, they were not as good at cleaning up after themselves. Under direction from the fire marshal, Marcus committed to removing the clutter in his basement, “a monumental job” considering it had compiled over the course of 150 years.

Through the process, he found far more than clutter.

“These prescriptions are from the 1890s,” Marcus said, pointing to a large, weathered book with handwritten notes pasted into it.

Also forgotten in the basement were a dial telephone, a typewriter and a scale from 1933 that outlines, “How the average person gains and loses weight throughout twenty four hours.”

With help from his employees, Marcus sorted through the hidden artifacts in the pharmacy’s basement and arranged his favorite items in an historical display in the front window.

The store’s long, narrow layout, with the large display window in front and the pharmacy counter in back, has rarely changed. The only major alterations Marcus knows of are the removals of a large working fountain that was once in the middle of the store and a wet bar that stood near the front entrance. Customers came into the pharmacy, sat on a stool and enjoyed a soda pop while waiting to have their prescriptions filled.

In the front window is a photo of Mr. Reimann, who ran the store – at the time called Reimann’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain – with his family during the 1920s. At the wet bar, Mr. Reimann ran a community-wide game called the “popularity contest.” After purchasing an ice cream soda, customers could place a vote for anyone in the village. The person with the most votes after a period of time, i.e. the most popular, won the contest.

Another black and white photo Marcus found shows the storefronts of Main Street long before Reimann’s time, during the 1860s.

“Sag Harbor Pharmacy is one of those stores,” said Marcus, smiling at the photo with pride.IMG_2422

Also displayed in the window are several sets of mortar and pestle, although they’re not as antiquated as one would think.

“We even do compounding prescriptions,” Marcus said of his pharmacy. “That means that we use mortar and pestles, the old art and all that. So we mix things – and a lot of pharmacies don’t do that.”

Compounded prescriptions require a pharmacist to combine, mix or alter ingredients in order to create a unique medication tailored to an individual patient’s needs. When Marcus started in the business 53 years ago, half of all prescriptions were compounds. Today, most pharmacies refuse to fill them.

“Most pharmacies are big chains,” said Marcus, “but there’s still a handful [of independent pharmacies] on the East End.”

In addition to medicine, the Sag Harbor Pharmacy carries a wide variety of items in the front of the store, from “fancy pillboxes” to shampoo to dollhouses.

“Of course,” the lifelong pharmacist continued, “we do a larger summer business than we do in the wintertime – it drops off considerably. But this is a wonderful town, very supportive, and we love it. We love it out here.”

The Years Have Changed the Pharmacy Business

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Biz Sag Pharmacy

By Emily J Weitz

When Barry Marcus, owner of the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, first got into the pharmacy business 50 years ago, it was a very different world. He typed up the labels for prescriptions on his typewriter. He compounded cough syrups and made suppositories out of cocoa butter right there in the pharmacy. He ground up the ingredients for prescriptions with a mortar and pestel before spooning them into capsules.

“Now they come from the manufacturer already done,” he says. “Now you can’t make a prescription without a computer. It’s all automation. It’s a lot faster, and it gets you a lot more information. But I liked the old days. I’m from the old school.”

Maybe that’s exactly why when Barry Marcus and his business partner Stan Weiss took over the business a decade ago, they kept the legacy of the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, founded in 1859, alive.

“This is the original building of the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, since 1859,” says Marcus. “We are only the eighth or ninth owners of the store.”

That longevity is attributed to “the supportive community. Sag Harbor Village is a wonderful town and we love being here. I guess all the other owners had the same feeling.”

Mr. Marcus bought the Sag Harbor Pharmacy after he “retired” from the pharmacy he owned in Elmont, Long Island for 36 years.

“I was looking for a country store,” he says. “When the Sag Harbor Pharmacy came up in 2001, I decided to call my old friend Stan and see if he wanted to join me.”

Stan and Barry had met in 1960, on the train on their way to orientation at pharmaceutical school. They were close friends, but after school they went their separate ways. When Barry approached him about going into business together, “He said yes, and now here we are.”

But Marcus and Weiss are in a different business than the one they entered into 50 years ago, 18 years old and starry eyed. Along with the advent of computers, another monster force has drastically changed the pharmacy business: insurance companies. Where people used to come into the pharmacy and pay cash for their prescriptions, now they pay a co-pay.

“All these insurance plans came out where they controlled how much money you would get on each prescription. Years ago, when it was cash, you could sell something for $7.95 and make more than you would on a $50 one now because the insurance companies decide what profit you get, and it’s a very small amount. What we really pick up on is from the front of the store.”

Speaking of insurance, it’s impossible to think about anything related to health care and not wonder how it’s been affected by Obama’s healthcare reform.

“We don’t know how much it will affect pharmacies yet,” says Marcus. “But any time the government gets into it there will be more controls, which means less profit for everyone… We are hoping that the volume of prescriptions will increase if more people become insured. But the jury’s still out.”

Pharmacies saw a similar shift during the Bush era, when a Part B insurance plan was added to Medicare, providing prescription coverage to seniors. “Seniors on fixed incomes were filling their prescriptions more because it was more affordable.”

Still another major factor in the changing face of the pharmacy business is the mail-order and online prescription services. It’s not only the prescription you lose from that customer – “You lose that customer who comes in for a prescription and buys that tube of tooth paste,” says Marcus.

And then, of course, there are the big box stores. It’s difficult for small business owners to compete with giant corporations like Walgreens or CVS. To do so, they bank on “service. We try to accommodate our customers. The chains carry fast moving items. We carry everything. We get to know everybody by name and we get to know what their wants and needs are,” says Marcus.

But it’s not only the way they do business that has kept the Sag Harbor Pharmacy from suffering the same fate that family-owned pharmacies across the country have suffered. It’s the community.

“When CVS tried to come in a few years ago,” recalls Marcus, “the community came up with savesagharbor.com. They have helped to keep us in business as an independent pharmacy and they support us by shopping here. We are very fortunate to be in a town where everybody, not only our customers, but everybody wanted us to stay in business, to keep this town the way it is. This village is unique. It has a certain charm. It’s like a Norman Rockwell town.”

After all the changes that have come to pharmaceuticals, does it even resemble the business that young Barry and Stan entered into 50 years ago? Enough for Barry to pause for a contemplative moment and then say with confidence, “I’d do it again. I love pharmacy, and I speak for Stan too. It’s rewarding. You meet all these people that become family to you. You get to know everyone’s personal lives, their children. It’s wonderful.”

As Marcus and Weiss celebrate their tenth anniversary as owners of the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, they are signing a new lease and looking forward to the next ten years.

“I just hope they don’t go by as quickly,” Barry says. “I’ll get too old.”

Sag Harbor Pharmacy Celebrates Anniversary

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web SagHarborPharm1

This past Monday, Barry Marcus and Stan Weiss celebrated nine years as Sag Harbor’s hometown pharmacists at the historic Sag Harbor Pharmacy. The celebration followed an anxious week of outreach following the revelation that Medco and United Healthcare had informed all Sag Harbor Pharmacy clients who use their healthcare plans that the pharmacy would no longer accept the New York State Empire Prescription Drug Plan – a falsehood Marcus said was bred in bureaucracy.

According to Marcus, on Monday, January 22 the pharmacy was literally flooded with calls from some of their 400 to 500 customers who use the Empire plan wondering why, after nine years, their hometown pharmacy had abandoned their prescription drug plan after receiving letters from United Healthcare and Medco.

“Fortunately, I have very loyal customers,” said Marcus this week, after the problem had been sorted out with providers; although he said the pharmacy has personally had to shell out a significant cost in mailings and advertising to fix the snafu, which could have been potentially deadly for business.

“Anyone that is a really good customer, and that is 99 percent, wouldn’t leave us for another pharmacy unless they heard from us directly that they were no longer covered,” said Marcus.

That loyalty has been cultivated over generations through the pharmacy’s 150-year history in Sag Harbor, and history is no stranger to its newest proprietors, who have avoided making any major changes to the pharmacy’s services and have known each other since they first boarded the train to pharmacy school.

Marcus and Weiss both graduated from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1965. They met years earlier, though, when dressed in shirts and ties on a train traveling to their first day of orientation they struck up a conversation.

“We wound up being friends and we have been for the last 50 years,” said Marcus. “Our wives are friends, our children and our grandchildren know each other.”

The duo even spent the last summer taking their 13-year-old grandchildren to Alaska. But years before that, after finding success on their own, the families decided to solidify their bond professionally by purchasing the Sag Harbor Pharmacy.

After retiring, Marcus admitted he became bored, and loved the East End having owned a condo in Montauk.

“I wanted something different,” he said, after leaving his large scale, Elmont, Long Island pharmacy. “A country store. I spoke to Stan and we got together in 2000 and decided it was a go. We opened February 1, 2001.”

Working for a hometown pharmacy suits them both, said Marcus, especially having a staff at the pharmacy stay on after they purchased the business.

“It’s a wonderful marriage and we have a full-time pharmacist who works with us, so we have our time off and we don’t have to work as hard as we did when we were younger,” said Marcus.

However, he added, both owners still enjoy rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.

“We like the contact we have with our customers, the questions,” said Marcus. “Every day we answer hundreds of questions. And we consider our work a very professional thing. We both still wear a shirt and tie every day because that was what they required when we were in college.”

In their careers, Marcus and Weiss have watched the pharmacy business change dramatically, altering the way pharmacies make money. With the addition of managed care, pharmacies nationwide were required to take on computers – a large expense – and fees on prescriptions became fixed, with doctors encouraged to push specific brands.

“The only way to make money after that was with the front of the store items,” said Marcus. “Prescriptions are no longer profitable.”

And so, like every pharmacy, the Sag Harbor Pharmacy exists through gift-related items like frames, teddy bears and chocolates during the Valentine’s Day season, which the store is already stocked for, and unusual or specialty cosmetics, lotions and organic soaps like the Thymes, California Baby and Burts Bees brands. But ultimately, Marcus said history and customer service are at the top of the pharmacy’s list of priorities.

“We try to keep it the way it was from the 1860s,” said Marcus. “We even still have a phone booth in the store. Even though Verizon made us take out the phone, the booth will stay.”