ST. PETERSBURG — A copy of Norman Rockwell's 1936 "Medicine" painting of a woman administering a spoonful of medicine to a small boy still hung on the wall of Mike Kinter's office the day after the Prescription Shop closed its doors.
When the locally owned pharmacy opened just 11 years after the Rockwell painting was done, polio was widespread and antibiotics weren't. Prescriptions were handwritten and pills and medicines were handmade.
After 70 years of being in business in downtown St. Petersburg, the store was sold to Publix, which will be serving its clients at the new downtown location.
Kinter, 70, one of the co-owners of the shop, said though closing the shop was bittersweet, the timing of the new Publix's arrival was good as he was looking to retire.
"We would have loved to have sold to possibly another independent pharmacy, but that just didn't work out," he said. "To us, the next best thing was an organization like Publix."
Kinter, who with two partners bought the business in 1986, said business became increasingly difficult as years went by.
"The face of community pharmacy has changed completely in the last 70 years," he said. "If there was anything that was certain, it was change."
Many of the customers were upset when the pharmacy put up the sign saying they were closing, Kinter said. Some near-centenarians have been customers since the store opened. The shop was stationed at three different locations downtown, the most recent at the intersection of Sixth Street and First Avenue N.
Tom McGowan, who has frequented the business since the 1990s, said it is the little things, like the way customers were greeted by name when they walked in or that the shop would deliver medicines to customers' doors, that he will miss the most.
"With something as personal as medications, if you need medicine for something or the other, the idea that people there know you and greet you and have a certain respect for your privacy and empathy, I think it's a nice touch," he said.
Pharmacist Michelle Delp, who became a co-owner of the store in 2004, will work as a pharmacist at the new Publix along with some of the other employees of the old store. Publix will offer delivery as well, the fifth Publix pharmacy to offer the service.
Linda Kitchin, officer manager of the shop who has worked for The Prescription Shop for more than 40 years, previously as a technician and delivery driver, said she has anticipated the day the shop would close for the last five years and it hasn't been easy to accept.
"The level of integrity and caring, you just don't find that any more," she said. "It didn't happen often, but sometimes if someone didn't have the money to pay for (medication), well ... they took care of them anyway."
Kinter said changing milieu of healthcare and policy has created obstacles for the store. Thirty years ago, about 1 percent of the store's clients paid by insurance. Now, he said, that's close to 99 percent.
"That's a complete, total shift, which has been interesting and difficult for any community pharmacy whether that be a chain drug store or an independently owned one," he said. "We've gone from a business where the owner or management decided on what to charge for things to a situation where some mystical body somewhere decides how much you as a patient are going to pay me in the form of a copay and how much I'm going to make."
Additionally, he said, "layer upon layer" of regulations --- some needed, but some not, he said, have made it difficult to run a business.
"Big Pharma" is often cast as a villain, but Kinter said he's not sure what the solution is.
Recently, he said he noticed a tube of ointment that has been on the market for more than 40 years selling for $1,500. A year ago it cost $200.
"Prices of old medications are astronomical to me and you have to wonder why," he said. "We get blamed for it sometimes (by customers who say), 'I can't believe how much you're charging for this.' … But it's not an easy question, because you don't want to stifle development. If Big Pharma hadn't developed these medicines that are curing diseases and preventing diseases, then would we be happier? I don't know what the answer is, but I can sure see it."
Kinter declined to say how much the pharmacy sold for, but said Publix was "extremely fair" in buying the store and hiring some of their employees.
Brian West, Media and Community Relations Manager for Publix, said in a statement the pharmacy was excited to begin serving its new customers.
Kitchin, who said she thinks their customers will be happy at the new location a few blocks away, said as her eyes welled that saying good-bye to The Prescription Shop has been difficult.
"It is the end of an era," she said. "The days of mom-and-pop pharmacies are gone and it's too bad."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.