They already seem to be everywhere, yet more are on the way. At work is an aging upstate population, more meds and a grand chess game among retail chains.
Here a drug store, there a drug store, everywhere a chain drug store.
Why so many? How can they make strong profits with competitors just across the street?
There's a new Walgreens on Eastern Boulevard in Canandaigua. Moving east, there's a Rite Aid in the Parkway Plaza, the Wegmans Pharmacy and the Wal-Mart Pharmacy on the outskirts of the city.
Rite Aid is seeking city approval to tear down the Econo Lodge at 170 Eastern Boulevard and put a store there, which could mean closing its Parkway Plaza store.
On Main Street, you'll find Kinney Drugs, a pharmacy inside Tops Market, and yet another Rite Aid.
The Medicine Shoppe on West Avenue is the only independent in town.
"I think how can a town the size of Canandaigua support all these drugstores?" asked Dan Miller. "For the life of me, I can't figure it out. Maybe the chain stores know something I don't."
Miller owns the only other independent pharmacy nearby; Miller Pharmacy is next to Wade's Market off Route 96 in Farmington.
Apothecary-style operations like his, which focus exclusively on prescription and over-the-counter drugs, claim to offer more personal service in a friendlier atmosphere.
"We aren't run by a corporation," Miller said. "We are almost like a mom-and-pop operation, and we think we have a pulse on our customers and their needs."
Despite a Normal Rockwell kind of appeal, neighborhood drugstores continue to go the way of the phone booth, uniformed gas station attendants and doorstep-delivered glass bottles of milk.
But the chains are taking up the slack. In Farmington, there's a CVS on the corner of Routes 96 and 332. Catercorner from that sits the landmark DiPacific's Restaurant & Party House, which opened more than 50 years ago. Now Walgreens is pursuing plans to buy the property and raze the restaurant to make way for yet another store.
Several key factors are responsible for the proliferation:
• immense numbers of Baby Boomers becoming geriatric
• projected suburban sprawl
• marketing and availability of new medications
Like any successful enterprise, careful planning goes into where to locate a drugstore. For example, Walgreens executives say for each new store under consideration, they review a 100-page report detailing its merits. It includes the site's proximity to major intersections and health facilities and other factors such as neighborhood traffic patterns and income and age demographics.
The chains are primarily concerned with projected population growth — more customers. In Farmington, for example, are several projects that if approved and fully built out, will bring hundreds of homes. That would make Route 96 a magnet for retail growth not only for Farmington but parts of neighboring Victor, also growing quickly.
To strengthen the competitive edge, some chains put in drive-thru pharmacies or stay open 24/7. They offer a mindboggling array of goods — ranging from rat traps and cough drops to toasters and frozen meatballs.
Walgreens, for example, boasts that it stocks 25,000 different items. Founded in 1901, today it has 117 stores in New York, nearly 6,000 nationwide. It employs 195,000 people and filled 529 million prescriptions last year and, like most of its competitors, revenues continue upward.
Walgreens' earnings grew between 13 to 16 percent yearly in 2002 through 2006.
The metamorphosis to such giant chains began more than 30 years ago. One of the leaders of the transformation happens to be a Rochester gentleman named William Konar, a Holocaust survivor born in Poland and orphaned in WWII.
Along with two brothers, Harry and Morris, they came to America after the liberation. William, about 15, then began his tireless ascent to success. Marketing and business savvy coupled with entrepreneurial instincts eventually led to the creation of the drugstore chain.
At one point he owned 64 such stores. Eventually, his enterprise was bought and combined with another retail operation to become CVS.
Many of Konar's marketing ideas were used in building the highly successful chain, according to Fortune magazine.
Konar could not be reached for comment.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, smart retailers know "clustering" helps business, not hurt it.
"People go wherever it's most easy," said Laura Miller, senior economist for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores in Virginia. "And retailers locate where it's correct demographically."
So where there are kids, there may be children's clothing and toy stores. It's not uncommon for a few restaurants to be on the same block.
Miller said a glut of drugstores is consumer-driven.
An aging population — upstate New York's is older than the national average — lots of insurance and high incomes are attractive to chain drugstores. According to an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank branch in Buffalo, by 2030, more than 20 percent of upstate's population will be 65 or older.
The average person in the United States gets 10 prescriptions a year filled, according to the drugstore association. If they're aged between 65 and 74, the number is 26, over 75, it's 31.
The more aged the population, the more "'scrips." More ailments are being treated than before because new medicines have been developed for them — Lipitor and other statins for high cholesterol, for example; Ambien for sleep difficulties, diuretics and beta-blockers for blood pressure.
There is more marketing for drugs now than ever before, with TV and magazine ads and the Internet. People are also taking more medication on a regular regimen, not just for the short-term, unlike many did for a heart attack, for example, years ago.
"More people are taking drugs now which they should've taken before, but it wasn't covered by insurance and others take medication that's covered just because it is covered and they want to take advantage of that," economist Laura Miller said.
The local pharmacist, like Dan Miller, benefits from these facts, too, but the chains still take a bite out of his business with each new store.
He had to lay off a few part-timers.
What he can't figure is where all the pharmacists are going to come from to work in the new chain drugstores.
"The Rochester area has been somewhat underserved and there's been a shortage of pharmacists," Dan Miller said.
Regionally, their wages tend to be higher to attract and keep them. They can make upward of $50 an hour to start, compared to $40-45 elsewhere.
That portends good things for the students now enrolled in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
Looks like their job prospects are good. In New York in 2000, according to the Journal of American Pharmaceutical Association, 13 percent of the population was over 65 and the percentage continues to grow. The number of resident pharmacists statewide likewise has increased 10 percent from 1990-2002.
But not enough to keep up with the expected demand in the coming years.
Billie Owens can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at email@example.com.