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Whitney Harris beams about her new drugstore./Photo by Jack Weatherly/MBJ

Dream realized: Independent pharmacy opens in Jackson

 

By JACK WEATHERLY

Whitney Harris is living her dream.

And she is fully awake to the challenges.

Harris opened her pharmacy, District Drugs and Mercantile, in the District at Eastover last week.

It’s an independent in the era of the chain pharmacy.

After her postgraduate pharmacological education, she put in four and one-half years at an indie, Beemon Drugs in the Maywood Mart on Northside Drive, which was bought out by a big chain, CVS Pharmacy.

That left Jackson without an independent pharmacy.

So what?

What’s what is that indies pride themselves in personalized service.

The number of independents has fallen to about 385 in Mississippi, driven in large part by the bankruptcy of Fred’s last year, according to the state Board of Pharmacy. Fred’s, a Memphis-based chain with roots in Mississippi, had built its pharmacy presence by buying independents. Between 2009 and 2019, 189 independents and 158 chain pharmacies closed in MIssissippi, with 55 of the chain pharmacies being shuttered in the first round of Fred’s closures.

Nationally, there were 21,909 indies as of 2017, down from 23,106 in 2011, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Chris Paddington of A.T. Kearney, a global management firm, expects the decline to continue. “Many independent operators are older and looking for an exit, while younger pharmacists are less attracted to the risk and return of ownership,” Paddington said in an interview.

That is half right about Beemon Drugs, whose owner, Lester Hailey, shut the doors on the north Jackson icon on June 25, 2019 after 63 years in business and retired.

CVS bought the Beemon accounts, Harris said.

After the initial disappointment of the closing – “we cried for two weeks,” Harris said — it struck her that here was an opportunity to realize a long-held dream.

It has been part of a plan that she developed through her seven-year doctoral program at the University of Tennessee at Memphis School of Pharmacy, serving her residency there in community pharmacy. She is still on the staff of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy.

Most of the former Beemon’s customers, who “are like family,” have moved their business to District Drugs, she said.

Much of the business for the new pharmacy is coming from the 260-unit District Lofts, she said.

And the pharmacy offers a 24-hour line for free delivery, from as close as the Lofts to anywhere in metro Jackson within reason, she said.

Harris obviously does not do it alone. She has nine employees working in the airy space she had Wier Boerner Allin Architects design for her, including another full-time pharmacist and her mother, who works the counter.

Stacie Crim, who was a pharmacist for Beemon’s alongside Harris and started her career in 1983 but who is not currently working with Harris, said: “I’m real excited for Jackson to have an independent pharmacy.”

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About Jack Weatherly