November 15, 2018
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Closing of century-old Bar Harbor pharmacy might not end its soda fountain

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Kristen Carter, a lunch counter server at West End Drug, waits on a customer (reflected in mirror) at the Main Street business on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Carter has worked for 17 years at West End Drug, which is selling its pharmacy business to Hannaford. The sale is expected to result in the closure of one of the last drug store lunch counters in Maine. "It's good for them to move on," Carter said of store owners Mike and Stacey Gilfillan, who have decided to retire.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The year was 1971. Nixon was president, Disney World had just opened, Apollo 14 had visited the moon and 13-year-old Mike Gilfillan was working the soda fountain at West End Drug Co.

His family had already owned the pharmacy for 53 years, and the work had its perks. Gilfillan’s friends flocked to the lunch counter for homemade vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butter pecan ice cream that he would whip into sodas and floats.

It was especially fun when his older sister’s girlfriends came by, but Gilfillan says he never succumbed to the job’s greatest temptation.

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Antique drug store items line a high shelf at West End Drug as customers are reflected in a mirror behind bottles of flavored syrup at the pharmacy's lunch counter on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The owners of the store have decided to sell their pharmacy business to Hannaford, which is expected to result in the closure of one of the last drug store lunch counters left in Maine.

“I had self control, and I didn’t gain a lot of weight,” Gilfillan said Wednesday. “There were people who came through and gained a lot of weight and never lost it.”

[Hospitals are fed up with drug companies, so they’re starting their own]

West End’s owner since 2008, the 60-year-old will close the pharmacy at 105 Main St. after exactly 100 years of Gilfillan family ownership.

The pharmacy at Bar Harbor’s Hannaford Supermarket will begin serving West End’s pharmaceutical customers starting Sept. 29, Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said.

The rest of the store will close once its inventory is sold. Two of its six workers will join Hannaford and the others are considering other options, Gilfillan said.

“It’s definitely time to do it. All the kids have grown and left the nest,” Gilfillan said. “We have always dreamed about hitting the road, and that goes all the way back to when my wife Stacey and I got together. We have always wanted to do this while we are in good health.”

With the closing of West End, Harris Drug Store of Greenville might be Maine’s last pharmacy with a lunch counter or soda fountain.

Harris Drug pharmacist Megan Jennison said workers there only knew of West End’s fountain, and the Maine Board of Pharmacy doesn’t track whether soda fountains or lunch counters are within pharmacies. The National Community Pharmacists Association did not return a message left Wednesday.

Boynton-McKay Food Co. of Camden and Waltz’s Soda Fountain of Damariscotta have functioning lunch counters but stopped offering pharmaceuticals years ago, Jennison said.

“It was a traditional thing to see in mom and pop drug stores, and as those have become less and less common, you just see the commercial retail chains that don’t have that personal sit-down-and-hang-out environment,” Jennison said. “It’s unfortunate. You don’t like to hear about other independents having to close their doors. We kind of root for each other.”

Gilfillan’s grandfather, James Gilfillan, and a partner opened the pharmacy in what is now the Sailor & Hook gift shop at 152 Main St. in 1918, after having bought the inventory from Rodger’s Pharmacy. Shortly thereafter a fire forced West End to move to 105 Main St., Gilfillan said.

Courtesy of Dobbs Productions
Courtesy of Dobbs Productions
Employees pose for a photo at West End Drug when it opened in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1917. Mike Gilfillan and his wife Stacey Gilfillan have decided to sell their pharmacy side of their 100 year-old store to Hannaford and to liquidate the rest of the business, which is expected to result in the closure of one of the last remaining drug store lunch counters in Maine.

Edith Gilfillan ran West End following her husband’s death in 1943, and their son, Robert Gilfillan, took over after graduating pharmacy school in 1950. Mike Gilfillan graduated pharmacy school in 1980 and has been West End’s owner for the last 10 years, he said.

Gilfillan continued West End’s soda fountain despite the changing times because it’s become a landmark and tourist attraction to Bar Harbor and the millions who visit it and nearby Acadia National Park annually, he said.

Gilfillan is also an ardent fan of community pharmacies. He wrote an editorial for the Bangor Daily News in 2004 lamenting their slow death by strangulation from federal reimbursement reductions and big pharma competition.

[Community pharmacies: Going, going, gone]

“There is a common myth that community pharmacies are the cause of high prescription prices. This is simply not the case, and people who depend on what community pharmacies give to their communities may have lots of time to think as short drives into town now are replaced by long round trips in the car in order to fill prescriptions in the future,” he wrote. “When a pharmacy is forced to close its doors, an important player in the local health care delivery system is lost. Does the community suffer just because a few people have to drive an hour or more round trip to fill a prescription? You might not think it is such a big deal unless you are the one making the trip, often over and over again.”

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Mike Gilfillan (at left), pharmacist and co-owner with his wife Stacey Gilfillan of West End Drug in Bar Harbor, sells a bottle of water to customer Dwayne Bolt on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The Gilfillans have decided to sell their pharmacy business to Hannaford, which could result in the closure of one of the last drug store lunch counters left in Maine.

Gilfillan’s retirement might mean the end of West End, but the soda fountain and lunch counter might yet continue. He said he is negotiating with another in-state pharmacy to buy the equipment. No deal has been set.

Gilfillan said he is grateful for his customers and suppliers. Since telling pharmacy staff of his looming retirement two weeks ago, they have let him know that West End will be missed.

Retirement “is and was a very very difficult thing for me to come to grips with. We have known three generations and in some cases four generations of people have come through here,” he said.

“We have always gone the extra distance for people. I have always wanted to treat people the way I wanted to be treated. I made that my goal in life, and from what I have been told, that’s what I have done.”

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