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Local pharmacies taking on new business in wake of Halethorpe’s closing

Local pharmacies taking on new business in wake of Halethorpe’s closing
Irina Herbst, pharmacist-in-charge at AME Pharmacy on Frederick Road in Catonsville. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Paul Antoszewski, of Arbutus, worked at Halethorpe Pharmacy for nearly 20 years – from 2000 until April, when it closed.

“We were all sad,” said Antoszewski, who worked at Halethorpe Pharmacy as a driver before he even went to pharmacy school. “[But] it was time to start a new chapter."

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Starting a new chapter meant getting a job at Wye Oak Pharmacy on Lansdowne Road. It was an easy choice to find another independently owned pharmacy, rather than look for a job at a big chain, like the Rite Aid on Sulphur Spring Road.

“All the staff here have just taken me under their wing as one of the family,” Antoszewski said. “And that’s what’s good about independent pharmacies. The people that work here, we’re a family.”

And, because Antoszewski went to Wye Oak, instead of a national chain or retiring, he’s managed to bring along some patients with him, too.

Earl McLaren, who’s been at Wye Oak for eight years as a pharmacist, said he said he was not sure how many patients had transferred their prescriptions to the pharmacy, but said it was a “significant” amount of new work.

McLaren said Antoszewski’s turnover patients has led to the pharmacy’s culture changing. About 80% of Wye Oak customers used to have their prescriptions delivered to them, rather than picking them up. But, “Halethorpe customers are accustomed to walking into the pharmacies,” he said.

"We offer them the option of delivery, but they say ‘No, no, we’ll come in, no problem, you’re just around the corner,' " McLaren said.

Halethorpe Pharmacy served the community for more than 100 years before owner-pharmacist George Garmer announced he was closing the location. He cited the financial difficulty of competing with large, national corporations.

Garmer’s difficulties may have been a blessing in disguise for other local pharmacies, though. Neil Leikach, pharmacist-owner of Catonsville Pharmacy, and Irinia Herbst, pharmacist-in-charge at AME Pharmacy on Frederick Road, both said they, like Wye Oak, have noticed new customers coming in from Halethorpe’s closing.

A Facebook thread in the group Concerned Citizens of Greater Arbutus demonstrates the ire former Halethorpe customers have felt. One group member posted that their prescription had gotten “screwed up” at a chain pharmacy and asked for recommendations. More than 70 people responded, bemoaning the chain stores and recommending former Halethorpe customers follow the staff to local chains.

Herbst, of AME, said she was able to hire seven employees from Halethorpe Pharmacy.

“I think they have really nice patients, and their staff was top notch. We were at the right place at the right time. I couldn’t imagine better staff than we have right now because of that,” Herbst said.

She said it was “scary” when she saw Halethorpe Pharmacy – where she worked during pharmacy school – was closing, because Garman had “a successful business.”

But she wouldn’t trade being an independent pharmacist, she said. You get to know the patients better, and get to become more tight-knit with employees.

“I think you have to be optimistic," she said.

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