'It's time to go': Baltimore's family-run Tuxedo Pharmacy to close after eight decades on Roland Avenue

As a little girl, Melinda Rose would ride her bike down Roland Avenue to get a milkshake from Tuxedo Pharmacy’s old-fashioned soda fountain. On Friday, several decades later, the lifelong customer was back at the store to pick up a routine prescription.

She planned on making it a quick trip. Then she heard the news: After 82 years, the family-owned neighborhood pharmacy she’s long relied on will close its doors.

“Sorry, Charlie, we’re out of here,” Harold Davidov, 79, told her.

“This is just terrible news,” Rose responded, hugging the man she grew up alongside. “Where will I get my prescriptions now?”

“It’s time,” Arnold Davidov, 82, said.

The Davidov brothers will close the family business Jan. 8. It’s hard to own an independent pharmacy in 2018, they say, thanks to declining reimbursement from insurance companies and a growing web of regulations.

But it was a hard choice. Four generations of Davidovs have worked behind the Tuxedo Pharmacy’s counters. And four generations of Baltimoreans have relied on the store for their medicine.

“Being a neighborhood pharmacy, you just have relationships with people,” Harold Davidov said. “We were young together, now we’re old together. They’re customers and they’re friends.”

The business will merge with the CVS on Falls Road. Customers’ prescription records will be confidentially transferred to the pharmaceutical giant on Jan. 9. Tuxedo staff will move to CVS, too.

The Davidovs don’t yet know what will become of the space on Roland Avenue, which once held not just the store, but the family’s small apartment.

Sitting in his upstairs office — once his parents’ bedroom — Harold Davidov recalled a lifetime spent at the Tuxedo Pharmacy. How he would operate the soda fountain as a little boy. How he would sell Christmas trees on the sidewalk out front to earn an extra buck. How his mother would “hold court” in the cosmetics department, doling out advice on knitting, makeup, child-rearing and life itself.

State senators and Pulitzer Prize winners have all relied on Tuxedo Pharmacy over the decades, the brothers said. Customers are greeted by name.

“I'm new at it,” Harold Davidov joked. “I've just been at it 55 years.”

Betty and Louis Davidov, both immigrants from Eastern Europe, purchased the company in the 1930s. Like most families living through the Great Depression, they had little money. Louis worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. Part of the reason for having an apartment above the store was so he could sneak upstairs to take naps when it wasn’t too busy.

They gave the pharmacy to their sons in the early 1970s. The price? The boys had to promise their parents that they’d never kick them out of the business.

“We made the promise,” the younger Davidov said. “Little did we know that my mother would work until she was 94 years old.”

Since then, Davidov children and grandchildren have worked there in some fashion. But they’ve moved on to jobs of their own now, in finance or public relations or other industries.

The pharmacy is just “not a business to take over anymore,” Harold Davidov said.

The estimated number of independent community pharmacies is 21,909, according to National Community Pharmacists Association, and has been slowly shrinking in recent years. Still, the association says, community pharmacies make up 35 percent of the retail pharmacy marketplace.

Harold Davidov remembers when every community had its own pharmacy, but now “they’re few and far between.”

The industry is different, tougher, he said, to the point where “you're beating your head against the wall to make ends meet.”

It reminds him of what happened to Greetings & Readings, the retail fixture that announced on Thursday it would be closing after five decades. The family-owned seller of books, cards and apparel faced declining sales and traffic. It was impossible to compete with the internet and behemoths like Amazon.

“It’s the same type of story here,” Harold Davidov said.

Times have changed at 5115 Roland Ave. under the Davidovs’ watch. It was one of the first pharmacies in the city to stop selling cigarettes, they said. Tuxedo still has a liquor license, but hasn’t sold an alcoholic beverage in ages. The brothers see it as counter to their role in the health care business.

It’s hard to let it all go.

“You leave with very mixed emotions because people have really depended on us through the years, as we've depended on them,” Harold Davidov said. “Then the ‘but’ comes in.

“The ‘but’ is, it’s time to go. The ‘but’ is, it’s just not sustainable anymore.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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