Only non-chain Tri-Lakes pharmacy closes
After 70 years under Bevilacquas, Post Office Pharmacy shifts prescription records to Walgreens
SARANAC LAKE — Some windows were covered up, signs directed former customers to a Walgreens, and much of the merchandise inside had been removed, aside from some postcards and a rack of Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts.
The lettering was gone, too, leaving behind holes where nails had been and years of dirt remnants still spelling out “Post Office Pharmacy.”
This was the scene Friday, when after 70 years of ownership under the Bevilacqua family, the Post Office Pharmacy at 61 Main St. closed.
Prescription records were transferred to the new Walgreens at the corner of Church Street and Bloomingdale Avenue, which used to be Rite Aid. If you call the phone number for the Post Office Pharmacy, 518-891-2233, it will redirect you to Walgreens.
The Enterprise stopped by the Post Office Pharmacy Friday afternoon. Owner and pharmacist Jim Bevilacqua was there but said he was too busy clearing out the store to make a comment at that time. In a phone call, his wife Beth, who is the town of Harrietstown bookkeeper, also said she couldn’t comment, deferring to her husband. Walgreens staff deferred to Jim Bevilacqua, too, when asked if he will start working there.
In a post on Facebook, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who’s married to Jim Bevilacqua’s sister Janie, said, “We pay tribute this week to Jim Bevilacqua and the entire Bevilacqua family, for their service to our community over these many decades, and generations, as owners and operators of our local pharmacy and as our pharmacists. Things change, times change, economics and realities vs. large retail giants change, this we know. One thing, though, that has never changed is their care and commitment to the health of Saranac Lake and their love for our village. May their years ahead be those of peace and happiness…all, so well deserved. Thank you and may God Bless you.”
Local history columnist Howard Riley said it’s sad to see the Post Office Pharmacy go.
“I was just in there two or three days ago,” he said in a phone interview. “Any prescriptions I had, I would get there.”
Riley said he likes the personal touch Jim Bevilacqua brings to his work.
“Jim would say, ‘Take this for this, and take that for that,'” he said. “He was always on the phone calling the doctor and checking on medications. Even with non-prescription stuff he such an expert.”
Nori’s Village Market owner Andy Keal said, “We did all our pharmacy business there, and I think it’s a big dent in the downtown.”
The building at 61 (then 52) Main St. was built in the late 1800s as the Franklin County Library. It was Saranac Lake’s first library. Toward the start of the next century, Milo Miller bought the building and turned it into a meat market also offering fruits, vegetables and fish. The building switched owners a few times before Arthur Buck moved his already-established Post Office Pharmacy business into the space around the 1930s.
The Post Office Pharmacy was never actually a post office. It was named that because its original location was near a post office, a few doors downs on Main Street. The building the post office was in is now the Downhill Grill.
Carl Bevilacqua bought the Post Office Pharmacy from A.B. Husted in 1949. Carl owned and operated the business for 37 years before selling it to his son Jim in 1986.
Independent pharmacies aren’t the most common businesses these days. Saranac Lake once boasted nine local pharmacies in the 1930s, but many have closed or been replaced by national chains such as Walgreens or regional ones such as Kinney Drugs, based in Gouverneur.
There are only a handful of independent pharmacies left in the North Country, such as the Willsboro Pharmacy, the Schroon Lake Pharmacy and the Moriah Pharmacy in Port Henry. Feek Pharmacy in AuSable Forks closed in 2017.
According to a 2018 study from the Rural Policy Research Institute Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, independent pharmacies in rural America are on the decline.
“Over the last 16 years, 1,231 independently owned rural pharmacies (16.1 percent) in the United States have closed,” the study said in its key findings section. “The most drastic decline occurred between 2007 and 2009. This decline has continued through 2018, although at a slower rate. (Six-hundred and thirty) rural communities that had at least one retail (independent, chain, or franchise) pharmacy in March 2003 had no retail pharmacy in March 2018.”
Riley said the local pharmacy business was more bustling back when tuberculosis treatment was still a major draw for Saranac Lake.
“I remember they used to have a guy who would drive around in this Plymouth Coupe, delivering prescriptions to the cure cottages,” he said. “That’s all he would do, and it was a full-time position.
“As a kid growing up, there were a lot of pharmacies then, and they weren’t chains like Kinney’s or anything like that. There were at least six I can see in my mind, and where they were located.”