Two years ago, registered pharmacist Michael Salquist was in a tough spot. Lansing Community Pharmacy, the independent pharmacy at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Kalamazoo Street he had worked at for eight years, was bought out by a mega-chain and shuttered.
“It was a family-owned place, but (the owners) decided to sell and not tell us,” Salquist said at the time. “I worked hard to get to know the clients. We developed a real bond.”
Prevailing wisdom made it seem like mom-and-pop drug stores were going the way of the dinosaur. But two weeks later, in October 2013, Salquist opened Central Pharmacy at the corner of Mount Hope and Pennsylvania avenues. Today, that one store has expanded to seven locations: two in Lansing as well as stores in Flint, Owosso, Perry, Laingsburg and Haslett. By January, at least five more will be added to the mix, including one on the west side of Lansing and one on the south side.
“It just goes to show people will choose a local store over a (chain) if they have the option,” Salquist said.
Salquist is only the owner or partner of five locations; for the most part, they have their own owner/operators. All, however, are part of the Health Mart franchise, which boasts over 4,000 stores nationwide. Health Mart allows owners to run their stores as they see fit while providing them invaluable marketing assistance and connection to resources. And like the current farm-to-table trend that has consumers refocusing on hyper-local goods and services, Salquist thinks his success marks a new model for this business.
“I think this is the future of independent pharmacies,” he said. “(Health Mart) does a lot of the marketing and carries a lot of weight for us. They help bring awareness to the independents and give us a voice. Because of them, I think independent drugstores are on the upswing.”
Before he landed at Lansing Community Pharmacy, Selquist had worked as the Kmart pharmacy director in Troy and later at Perry Drug Stores and Rite Aid. Over the years, he said, he not only learned the business, but he learned how best to serve people.
“Over 80 percent (of the medicine we sell) is covered by insurance, and copays are the same no matter where you go,” Salquist said. “The difference with us is that we actually make a point to know our customers by name. I’ve been working with the three techs for about 40 (combined) years, and together we’re now serving the third generation of families. We take this job seriously, and I think people appreciate that.”
Central Pharmacy also offers a few extra services the chains can’t or won’t offer. Salquist’s store provides free delivery to Lasing addresses, as well as individual packaging. He said the store recently invested in a Parata machine, which enables strip packaging, a type of customized packaging that allows customers taking multiple meds to have their prescriptions pre-sorted, greatly reducing the chances of misdosing.
Central Pharmacy also provides compounding services, which combines drug ingredients to customize a medication specifically to a patient’s needs. Examples include customized ointments and hormone treatments. And if you own a dog or cat, you already know how expensive it can be to fill your pet’s prescription. Central Pharmacy also fills that niche.
“(The chains) will charge $10 to $20 for delivery,” Salquist said. “Because we’re independently owned and operated, our hands aren’t tied. We can offer services such as free delivery service. Plus those delivery trucks make for good advertisement.”
And of course, anywhere there’s a pharmacy, that’s one less empty building in town. A few months before it opened, the building where Salquist set up his first shop was home to Grumpy’s Diner. The space had begun to fall into disrepair, and City Pulse declared the corner an Eye Sore of the Week. Today, it’s a glimmering white, landscaped piece of property that bears none of its previous disarray.
“I was hoping we could be moved to an Eye Candy of the Week,” Salquist said. “But really, even with all the construction on this block, it’s still been a great year. Because of the loyalty of our customers, we didn’t see a hit to business like some other places did.”
Central Pharmacy — Mount Hope 1003 E. Mount Hope Ave., Lansing 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday (517) 316-0711, centralpharmacymi.com