BELFAST, Maine — Some folks wonder why pharmacist Kevin Holland opened Belfast Drug Co. across the street from Walgreens, and only several hundred feet from Hannaford, which offers its own onsite pharmacy.
“They say, ‘Are you crazy?’” he said. “But I don’t view them as competitors. I think what we do is different.”
That difference is apparent as soon as a customer steps inside the new drug store, which opened last week in the Starrett Drive space formerly occupied by Bell the Cat coffee and sandwich shop. There are no bottles of wine and cans of beer in its aisles. Cigarettes aren’t for sale here. Neither is chewing tobacco.
There are racks of greeting cards, a full line of health and beauty aids, along with some durable medical equipment such as crutches and walkers — but the heart of the business is behind its wide counters. That’s where Holland and his staff fill prescriptions, talk to customers, administer immunizations and more.
No one would ever confuse this drug store with a convenience store.
“It’s really only about health care here,” he said. “It’s about taking care of people.”
That’s what the Skowhegan-based Holland does in his other two independent pharmacies — Holland’s Variety Drug in Skowhegan and Mt. Blue Drug in Farmington. In his stores, he said he hires enough staff so pharmacists and technicians can fill prescriptions quickly while taking time with customers if necessary. There are eight full- and part-time employees, and a pharmacist is always on duty. The store is open daily.
“We go over everything with all new medications,” he said. “There’s not any two-hour wait times. There’s always people to take care of you.”
He said the store will work with major insurance companies and prices will be competitive.
“People that are uninsured can be reassured that they’re not going to be charged an unfair price,” he said.
He started thinking about opening a store in Belfast 10 years ago, when one of his children came here to train with a wrestling coach. Holland made connections with locals, and he heard a refrain that stuck with him.
“The community was asking for an independent pharmacy,” he said.
Independent pharmacies represent just 36 percent of all U.S. retail pharmacies. There are about 22,000 independent pharmacies left in America, a number that’s declined as competition increases form larger national chains. Proponents of independent pharmacies say that they can provide flexibility, extra services and a personal touch.
Things have changed a bit for Belfast’s drugstore scene in the past few years: Walgreens purchased national competitor Rite Aid in a $9.4 billion deal in 2015 and more than a year ago closed the Belfast location of that store. But that closure isn’t why Holland figured opening a business here would be a good fit for his business philosophy.
“It’s like an old-time pharmacy,” he said. “There aren’t shareholders in boardrooms, asking where the profits are.”
Instead, he believes running a drug store means being the first line of health care. If his customers don’t feel good, his staff are ready to talk to them to find out more about it. If they have a disability and are unable to get out, he plans to offer deliveries. There’s a drive-through window to make it more convenient.
Holland knows that the pharmaceutical business is complicated and can seem confusing and not consumer-friendly. He wants to change that.
“We want to get people whatever treatment they need for the least amount possible. It is the decent thing to do,” he said. “People can tell whether you’re talking at them or you actually care about them. If we can’t do that and have that reward, then we could be replaced by robots.”