Surviving in the Age of Chain Stores: The West Orange Pharmacy

64 years in business and counting

This week, I visited one of West Orange's oldest shops, the West Orange Pharmacy, at 443 Main St. I spoke to William Carlucci, Jr., pharmacist, former co-owner and son of the pharmacy's founder, William Carlucci, Sr.

Carlucci, Sr. started the business in 1947 as a single-pharmacist shop. His twin sons, William Jr. and Robert, started working at the pharmacy at age fourteen. Both boys later became pharmacists and took over the business in 1977.

William and Robert enjoyed working together, but since it was only the two of them, they could never take time off together. That all changed when they brought in a relief pharmacist in 1991, Lenny Stefanelli. In 1999, Lenny became the brothers' third partner. And in 2008, Lenny bought the entire business. Since then, William and Robert have been semi-retired, working only part-time and playing lots of golf … together.

What I expected to find was a mom-and-pop shop, business humming along, due to loyal customers and its long history in West Orange. But in talking with William, I learned a very different story.

The West Orange Pharmacy is the only independently-owned pharmacy left downtown, whereas 25 years ago, there were "easily twelve or fourteen independently-owned pharmacies in the area," William said. "Now there's Eckert, two CVS stores, ShopRite and RiteAid ... and us."

I asked how they managed to stay in business with all the big chain stores coming in. "Service," William said. "We've always based our business on service. We offer free delivery and we try to help out the seniors. If they need milk or stamps along with their prescription, we’ll deliver that, too." 

The pharmacy serves more than 300 families across the street at 430 Main St. the senior citizen housing complex. 

"One thing we have refused to do is to have a [phone tree] system, where you have to press one for this, or press two for that. We won't do it. When you call here, you get a person," he said.

But William said he sees the end of the business coming. He says that mail-order prescription service is what's hurting the pharmacy business the most. Customers can get a 90-day supply from the mail-order companies for the same co-pay they pay at his pharmacy for a 30-day supply.

"We can't offer that and we can't compete with that. I don't blame customers, either. Why should they pay three times the price for the same prescription?" he said. William also told me that Costco is retailing diabetic supplies at less than what he can pay wholesale.

My husband's company just changed our insurance package. Along with our insurance cards, we got CVS Caremark mail-order prescription cards. And because a 90-day supply costs me the same as a 30-day supply at the pharmacy, I fill our prescriptions without ever setting foot in a pharmacy.

At this point, the pharmacy relies on loyal customers. Medicaid does not have a mail-order option, so those patients continue to be West Orange Pharmacy customers.

So what can you do to support the local pharmacy? William said that even if you use a mail-order service for your ongoing prescriptions, you can fill "emergency prescriptions," such as anti-biotics or other prescriptions you need quickly, locally.

"It's a new age. The independent business is out. And it's not just the pharmacies. It's bakeries, liquor stores … everything is being done by the big stores. Have you seen how big the bakery is at ShopRite?" said William.

For several years now, the West Orange Pharmacy owners have been approached by the chain stores. "Every year, [they] come in and want to buy us out. All they want is our customer base. They'll liquidate our contents. They won't keep the physical store here, it's too small for them," William said.

"It's the way that business is going," William said. "But we've got a few years left." 

Annalise Silivanch May 09, 2011 at 09:29 PM
We only shop at West Orange Pharmacy. It's walkable, so you can get a few errands done at once (Italian meat market for bread, etc.) the staff is so sweet to our kids, their cards are discounted 40% (which saves a surprising amount on big holidays), and they have some great "old-fashioned" pharmacy items that I've enjoyed stumbling upon: lambswool shoe inserts, for instance (now I can fit into that 1/2 size too big pair of shoes I have!) Most noticeably, their pharmacy doesn't reek of chemicals from every Made-in-China, seasonal, "As Seen on TV," completely unnecessary piece of merchandise imaginable. The way I see it, I go to a pharmacy for a select few things: the excess stuff packed in the chain stores is unhealthy, unnecessary and a waste of my money.
Dina May 14, 2011 at 02:42 AM
I wouldn't consider getting my prescriptions any where else, even if it's cheaper. Here I can get an emergency Rx filled the same day, and if I'm not well enough to come in in person, they'll deliver it! Where else can you get this?? (no where!). This can be a life saver. They've always filled my last minute Rxs every time. And if you are looking for a hard to find toiletry item or over the counter med., they will special order what they don't have, and it comes in fast! They always provide excellent customer service. I hope they stay in business...I don't want to have to look for another place. You can't put a price on service. You go, Lenny!
Cynthia Cumming May 14, 2011 at 05:54 AM
I always filled my prescriptions at WOP. However, my insurance company has forced us to have to purchase recurring prescriptions through a mail order company, and generic ones at that. Whenever possible, though, we fill our prescriptions here. The staff has been so great, it is heartbreaking to me to HAVE to purchase my HP meds and my son's asthma meds online...
Carol L. August 15, 2011 at 10:00 AM
I've been going to WOP for over forty years. And you will never find the service and help there anywhere else. I could shop anywhere but why ? The customer service is amazing and when you do enter you have George, Hetta and Maryann to greet you with big smiles. You won't find Bob, Bill or Lenny anywhere else either. If you're forced to purchase some or all of your medicines online etc you can still shop at WOP. I can't imagine them not being there. Lenny has gone over and above what any other Pharmacy would. They are so beyond helpful and compassionate. Carol Luciano


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