homepage logo

End of an Era

By Staff | Mar 4, 2009

by Cindy Knier

Citing increasing competition in the dispensing of medications, a historic-and quite possibly the oldest continuously existing business in the borough of Muncy-sold this week to a larger establishment, bringing to end a 173-year-old relationship with the borough.

The sale of Harter’s Drug Store, located at 17 South Market Street, Muncy to CVS Pharmacy, at the Lycoming Mall, took place on Tuesday, March 3 for an undisclosed amount, said Mark Tarquinio, proprietor since August 1981.

Approached by representatives of the pharmacy for the last several years, Tarquinio had repeatedly rejected their offers to purchase his inventory and clients.

“This time, I approached them,” he said. “I didn’t have to sell…I wanted to sell,” he said, noting that 2008 was financially better than the previous year. “It’s just the right time to sell.”

A familiar and friendly sight among downtown stores, Harter’s Drug Store has been sold by proprietor Mark Tarquinio to CVS Pharmacy at Lycoming Mall on March 3. The business was perhaps the oldest, continuously-operated merchant-owned establishment in the area, dating back to 1836. (Knier)

Tarquinio said that mail-order prescriptions and pharmacies in local grocery stores and warehouses, such as Sam’s Club, scheduled to open this year, have taken former customers away from the home town business. “That’s played a big role in my decision to sell,” he said.

Most large health plans work with companies known as Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs), which manage the drug benefit for the health plan. Since these companies can buy medications in large quantities directly from the drug companies, they are able to offer discounts on medications that are ordered through the mail. The largest PBMs in the country, Medco, Caremark and Express Scripts, provide mail-order drugs to more than 100 million people.

Medco Health Solutions Inc.’s fourth-quarter profit rose 32 percent in 2008, as the deteriorating economy drove increased sales of generic and mail-order drugs as customers tried to save money.

Drug costs have also increased, yet the margins set by insurance companies have actually decreased, said Tarquinio. Mail order prescriptions may appear to be more cost effective, but the savings is not passed on to the pharmacist or the customer.

In addition, mail-order subscriptions eliminate one of the most valuable health resources in a community: a drug store pharmacist, who can advise customers about drug interactions and side affects, particularly if the person is also taking over-the-counter medications.

Prior to Burgard, Pharmacist Ed Macuaig dispensed medicine in the building, and joins a number of other notable former owners, among them, William and George Painter who also owned The Luminary.

Although the business has moved to different locations on Main Street, it has always remained on the eastern side of the downtown district.

Tarquinio, who also owns the building and will seek to sell the property, says he’s enjoyed his time as a pharmacist, but it’s something he no longer wants to do. “And there’s no young pharmacist to train to take over the business,” he said, adding,”When you own a business, you’re married to it.”

For the next month, Mark will assume duties at CVS, until Harter’s Drug Store customers have acclimated to the change over, then he will ease of the picture and get on with life.

“I’m looking to gear back a little bit, and enjoy our grown children and our grandchildren,” he said.