‘It’s like going to a funeral over and over again.’ Bellefonte pharmacy to close after 120 years

After more than 120 years in business, Parrish Apothecary Shop is closing its doors, but its owners said they’ll be taking a lifetime of memories with them.

Owned by 83-year-old Jay Ronald Montgomery since 1965, the pharmacy — located on 114 N. Allegheny St. in Bellefonte — has prescriptions that date back to 1890, said son Dave Montgomery. On Tuesday, the store informed its customers of the closing, citing financial reasons as a key factor.

“We had people crying and telling us we can’t do it,” Montgomery said.

Though Montgomery said “it’s time” to close the family business, the decision wasn’t easy. Seeing the two sides that come with running a small business — emotional and financial — he said it’s gotten to the point where the financial loss is too great to continue operating.

“The emotional side is what’s holding me up,” he said. “It’s my family business. It’s my legacy. It’s where I’ve worked forever, and I feel comfortable here. It’s my family. Our customers are like family. I just can’t let it go, but if you look at if from the financial side, it’s just not worth it.”

Pharmacy reimbursements, Montgomery said, are not enough to cover the cost of business.

Pharmacist David A. Montgomery fills a prescription at Parrish Apothecary Shop in 2010. Centre Daily Times, file

Your Pennsylvania Community Pharmacies, a coalition of independent pharmacies across the state, cites the growing presence of pharmacy benefit managers — third-party administrators of prescription drug programs — as a multi-faceted problem for local pharmacies.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has pushed for lawmakers to take action to increase transparency for how PBMs do business, issuing a special report last year.

“Dozens of pharmacists have told me that large PBMs, many of which have ties to chain pharmacies, have consistently shortchanged local pharmacies,” he said in April. “They’ve done this by reducing reimbursement rates without warning, steering consumers towards more expensive pharmacies, and hiding behind a veil of secrecy.”

Montgomery called it “black times” for small, community pharmacies.

“As anybody who reads the news, listens to the radio or watches TV, we know that the health industry in the United States is in a flux,” he said.

Montgomery said the industry has struggled for several years and anticipates more restrictions and regulations will develop in the future. He said Parrish Apothecary is losing money, adding that he would make more of a profit by giving customers $5 to go somewhere else to have prescriptions filled.

Watching his parents run the store as a kid, Montgomery said “it’s way past time” that they retire.

“When I first graduated pharmacy school in 1984, I was the junior member of the pharmacy staff here,” he said. “It was always our dream that when (my parents) retired, we would take it over. But in the last four years, the health care industry ... has been really bad.”

Montgomery started working at the store when he was a teenager. While working, Montgomery said it helped him meet his wife — who worked across the street at Plumb’s Drug Store. He said they have carried on the tradition of getting to know their customers.

“We know things about people and their families,” he said. “When I first started to work here, people would come in and I’d listen to my father talk to these people. He knew everything about them. Through the years, I have learned maybe more than what I should know about people.”

From listening to stories about cooking endeavors and memories of football weekends, Montgomery said he will miss the daily interactions with customers most of all.

“They’re family, and each customer brings a different thing to the store,” Montgomery said. “I have one customer who comes in and tells me three jokes every time. These are jokes that his family will say they hear everyday, but to me, they’re brand new.”

With 3,000 customers in their database and over 300 consistent customers, Montgomery said he feels like closing is letting down the community and his family.

“There’s a lot of stories here,” he said.

The pharmacy will close at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22, when Bellefonte CVS will transfer all customer records to its location at 127 S. Potter St.

While Montgomery said he is glad customers will still be able to have their prescriptions filled close by, he said CVS will not have the same “personal touch” as Parrish Apothecary.

“When I went home last night, I told my wife I never realized how emotional it was going to be,” he said. “It’s like going to a funeral over and over again.”