Faced with a gap in the local retail base—no pharmacy or bookstore, for example—city officials almost invariably try to lure a national chain into the community. There often seems to be little alternative: how exactly does a town go about establishing a new independent business to fulfill an important function?
While there’s no obvious path and it may well prove more difficult than attracting a chain, officials of Orono, Maine recently demonstrated that it can be done.
Downtown Orono has long been anchored by a pharmacy. For many years, it was a Rite Aid store. In 1996, the chain sought to move a few blocks down Main Street to build one of its 11,000 square foot drive-through boxes on a prominent corner. Residents vehemently opposed the project and some 250 came out for a protest in front of the store. Rite Aid backed down, and then, in 1999, decided to close its downtown Orono location entirely.
Town officials felt a pharmacy was both an essential need and a critical component of the overall health of downtown. But residents and local officials did not want another footloose chain. A better option, they decided, would be an independent, locally owned pharmacy.
“We felt it would be more reliable and create a better image for the community,” says Gerry Kempen, Orono Town Manager.
The town sent letters to some 1,200 pharmacists licensed by the state of Maine, asking if they might be interested in opening a pharmacy in Orono. About half a dozen responded and soon the town found its man. Ali Aghamoosa, who received his pharmaceutical license in 1995 while working for a Maine hospital, arrived from Texas on November 3. On November 18, the Orono Community Pharmacy opened for business.
The rapid start-up was made possible by several residents who volunteered to stock shelves, as well as Bill Miller, owner of Miller Drug in nearby Bangor, who provided Aghamoosa with timely advice and information.
“It was certainly more work for the city than bringing in an established company,” says Kempen, noting that chain retailers employ an army of staff to negotiate with contractors, obtain licenses, and handle all of the details involved in opening a new store. “But we felt it was well worth the effort,” he continued. Although Orono was unable to offer financial assistance, the town did provide Aghamoosa with contacts, information, and logistical support.