By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – A customer looking to fill a prescription doesn’t have to look hard these days.
The nation’s largest pharmacies, Walgreens and CVS, battle for prime locations; big-box retailers like Walmart and Fred’s have pharmacies inside their stores; and grocery shoppers at large chains like Kroger also can get the medications they need.
Undeterred, independent pharmacists like Ben Burns say there’s a need – and a demand – for small drugstores like his.
“With the big-box stores, there’s no personal service,” he said. “And I love having that personal service.”
Burns is quite familiar with being a pharmacist and running a pharmacy.
He’s the owner of Rushing Drugs in Iuka, as well as Burnsville Discount Drugs. On April 2, he opened Tupelo Family Pharmacy on East Main Street.
Rushing was founded in 1942, and Burns’ father bought the store in the 1950s. In 1997, Burns bought the pharmacy, and seven years later he opened the Burnsville pharmacy.
His latest venture, in Tupelo, is on a prime location he first eyed nearly a year ago. The pharmacy at 1244 E. Main St., sits between Sav-A-Lot and Dollar General. Across the street is a Fred’s.
“I think we’re in a great location,” he said, noting that traffic flows from Mooreville, as well as Plantersville into east Tupelo.
Operating the store are pharmacists Jared Bounds and Eddie Armstrong and pharmacy tech Erica Burcham.
Bounds and Armstrong have more than three decades of pharmacy experience between them, having worked at a variety of stores.
Both say working in an independent pharmacy is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of a big-box store.
“There are other options for customers, but we know we’re going to provide that personal service that they’re not going to get at a big box store,” Bounds said.
Armstrong agreed, noting that long waits at an independent pharmacy are the exception rather than the norm.
“You’ve already spent a few hours with a doctor, why should you have to wait even more at a pharmacy?” he said.
Tupelo Family Pharmacy joins ZIP Scripts as the only independently owned drugstores still operating in the All-America City. Others have been swallowed up by national chains.
Walgreens and CVS have nearly16,000 stores between them across the country, while WalMart has nearly 4,200 stores in the U.S. And most of its stores also have pharmacies.
Those large chains have cut into the number of independent stores during the past three decades, as their number was cut in half by the mid-1990s. Today, about 23,000 independent pharmacies remain, their revenue accounting for about 30 percent of the $250 billion pharmacy and drug store industry.
The market in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi is only a small drop in that big bucket, but independents like Tupelo Family Pharmacy and ZIP Scripts think there’s plenty of business to share.
Quick and personalized service are these stores’ hallmarks, along with having the products and prices customers want.
“Our prices are competitive,” Burcham said. “We’re even lower on some things. … and we’re going to treat you like a person, not like a number.”
The aging Baby Boomer generation, healthcare reform and continued drug developments will underpin revenue growth and intensify competition, IBISWorld said.
Which means there’s room to grow and expand further, Burns said.
“I’d like to build out (in) west (Tupelo) eventually,” he said. “But we’re going to get established here first and see what happens.”
TUPELO FAMILY PHARMACY
• Address: 1244 E. Main St., Tupelo
• Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed Sunday
• Phone: (662) 844-7811
• Facebook: Tupelo Family Pharmacy