40 years in business, a small pharmacy sees a lot of industry changes

The staff at the Medicine Shoppe in New London gathers for a photo Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The staff at the Medicine Shoppe in New London gathers for a photo Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — A lot has changed in the industry since Henry Cormier opened The Medicine Shoppe on Broad Street in 1978.

The pharmacy evolved from its beginnings as a cash business at a time when few people had insurance. In those days, Cormier had a computer the size of a bureau.

Nowadays, pharmacists come out of school "more or less as clinicians; they're more educated in health care and disease systems and that type of stuff rather than the actual dispensing of prescriptions," he said. "Back then, we were taught to compound, taught to make ointments and suppositories and capsules."

The Medicine Shoppe survived, which Cormier attributes in part to finding a niche and doing what larger chain pharmacies might not do, such as offering multi-dose packaging that helps with adherence to a prescription regimen. Cormier said it's especially beneficial for older people, who may take several drugs a day and get confused.

Cormier sold the business in 2005 to Nagy Wassef but is pleased to see it reach its 40th anniversary.

Blue and silver balloons, streamers and a "Happy Anniversary" garland adorn the interior of shop. Beneath is a table with snacks like Milano cookies, Lance crackers and pretzels, which visitors can grab throughout the month.

Cormier also attributes the pharmacy's longevity to the personal contact with customers.

Bud O'Connor is a testament to that.

"Hi, Mr. O'Connor!" manager Gina Wassef greeted the 87-year-old as he entered The Medicine Shoppe on Monday afternoon. O'Connor said he's been going there from the early days of the business, and the word he keeps using to describe the atmosphere is "comfortable."

"I like their professionalism, and also their courteousness to the customers, and personal kind of thing," he said. "When you come in they call you by name."

Father-daughter team

Cormier grew up in New London and had a pharmaceutical career on his brain since he was a kid. After graduating from the University of Connecticut, he worked at the former Dyer's Pharmacy – on the corner of Jefferson and Lincoln avenues – for 15 years.

He kept getting contacted about starting a Medicine Shoppe franchise, and he decided to take the company up on the offer of a free trip to St. Louis. Cormier loved what he heard and opened a franchise.

"It was built on the concept that we would sell prescriptions and health-related items, so vitamins, cough syrup ... no rose bushes, no motor oil, none of that stuff," said Cormier, who now lives in Florida most of the year.

Over the years, The Medicine Shoppe has held many screenings, for blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma and more.

The biggest competition for The Medicine Shoppe today is not chains but mail-order pharmacies, which Cormier said started becoming popular in the late '90s.

Wassef also opened a Medicine Shoppe in Old Saybrook in 2016, and he acquired the one in Vernon last year. Also last year, he purchased Apothecare of Cape Cod.

His daughter, Gina Wassef, who grew up in Pawcatuck, always wanted to work in the public health or health care industry out of a desire to help people, and she became interested in pharmacies because of her father's work as a pharmacist.

She began working at the Medicine Shoppe in 2006, when she was in high school, and graduated from Northeastern University with a doctor of pharmacy in 2012. She continued working as a pharmacist and became manager about a year ago.

Gina Wassef sees more obstacles now than there used to be, with more rules and more paperwork from insurance companies. But she keeps plugging away.

She gives talks at AHEPA apartment buildings and senior centers, and at an opioid awareness event at Williams Park last summer she helped dispense Narcan.

Henry Cormier opened The Medicine Shoppe in 1978 and sold the business in 2005 to Nagy Wassef. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Henry Cormier opened The Medicine Shoppe in 1978 and sold the business in 2005 to Nagy Wassef. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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