NAUGATUCK — The shelves in Ford Pharmacy and Medical Supply sat barren Thursday morning with the exception of few random items — a roll of paper towels, some Lysol spray and bottle of Febreze — that were for use instead of for sale.
Thor Huntley sat in his office in the now vacant store at 2 Church St. and spoke about the decision to abruptly close the independent pharmacy this week.
Huntley, a pharmacist who owned Ford Pharmacy for the last four years, told a story that is becoming more common as independent pharmacies across the state are shuttered due to the rising cost of doing business, business practices mandated by pharmacy benefit managers and low reimbursement rates from insurance companies.
“They’ve [insurance companies] lowered how much they pay us and they’ve increased the fees that they charge us,” Huntley said. “The DIR [direct and indirect remuneration] fees have increased every year since I’ve taken over and the reimbursements have gone down.”
Huntley said he paid $10,000 to $20,000 a year in fees when he first took over the pharmacy. That figure climbed to about $150,000 last year, he said.
Huntley closed the pharmacy on Tuesday and sold the list of customer prescriptions to Rite Aid across the street at 56 Rubber Ave. He said he sold to Rite Aid because of its proximity to Ford Pharmacy and he was told the company would hire all of his former employees.
Ford Pharmacy’s closing came as shock to its loyal customers, many of whom expressed dismay on social media over the sudden and unexpected closure.
Huntley, who knew he was going to sell to Rite Aid about a month and half ago, said he’s sorry he didn’t tell customers beforehand. He said he didn’t tell his customers while he negotiated with Rite Aid because the sale wasn’t guaranteed.
“We couldn’t announce anything until it was actually signed and completed,” Huntley said. “It wasn’t a done deal until basically when we were closing.”
Prescription files for Ford Pharmacy’s former customers were transferred Tuesday to the Rite Aid pharmacy on Rubber Avenue, Rite Aid Director of Public Relations Chris Savarese said. However, he said, people can choose to go to another pharmacy.
“The patient gets to choose if Rite Aid fills their prescriptions or if they want their prescriptions transferred anywhere else,” Savarese said.
Savarese said customers can call Rite Aid at 203-723-7745 with questions about their prescriptions.
Huntley started working at Ford Pharmacy as a technician and intern while in college almost 20 years ago. After he graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, he came back to work at the pharmacy before buying it from the previous owners, Ray Morelli, Dan Vendetti and Tom Rembish. They bought the store from Bill Ford, who bought it from his father and original owner, Ray Ford.
“I tried and did everything I possibly could. I poured my time, 60, 70 hours a week. I’ve put a lot of my money into it to try to keep it going, and it just got to a point where I don’t have much left financially, and it’s getting lower and lower,” Huntley said. “It’s getting to a point where we had to leave now when we had something still to sell because if not we would have nothing and then I would’ve had to give up everything else that I’ve had.”
Ford Pharmacy is the latest local independent pharmacy to close over the past year. Beacon Falls Pharmacy in Beacon Falls closed last August after 14 years in business and sold its business to Market 32 in Oxford. Murphy’s Pharmacy in Litchfield closed last August, as well, after 68 years of business.
Small, independent pharmacies — such as Stoll’s Pharmacy, Bunker Hill Pharmacy and Brass City Pharmacy in Waterbury, as well as Canfield Corner Pharmacy in Woodbury, and Petricone’s Pharmacy in Torrington — are becoming increasingly rare.
In Naugatuck, there’s still Naugatuck Pharmacy on Maple Street. Naugatuck Pharmacy took over the space once occupied by Nelson’s Pharmacy, which sold to Rite Aid in 2014 after 40 years in business.
Huntley, whose pharmacy license is still active, said he plans to continue working as a pharmacist but doesn’t think he’ll ever own another local independent pharmacy.
“I wanted to keep this going forever. This was my dream job to do this but no with our current situation it’s too volatile. … PBM are your pharmacy business managers, the people who pay us. Unless there’s huge PBM reform and insurance reform, I don’t see myself feeling comfortable enough to get back into it.”