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Towne Pharmacy will permanently close its doors at 1012 Main St. in Branford at the end of business on Wednesday, August 14, said CEO/Pharmacist Karen W. Ragonese, a second-generation owner of the Branford business co-founded by her late father, pharmacist William Ward. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
In a portion of the former pharmacy space, under the new name of Down-Towne Medical Equipment, Karen Ragonese and Vincent Ragonese will continue to provide durable medical equipment services, a business segment started 12 years ago within Towne Pharmacy. (Photo courtesy Karen and Vincent Ragonese )
Pharmacy Business Transitioning to CVS on Short Beach Road as of Aug. 15
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After 54 years in business in the Branford town center, it’s with a heavy heart that Karen Ragonese and Vincent Ragonese announce that Towne Pharmacy will permanently close its doors at 1012 Main Street at the end of business on Wednesday, August 14.
As of August 15, all Towne Pharmacy customers and prescriptions will immediately be transferred to CVS Pharmacy at 2-6 Short Beach Road in Branford. Calls to the Towne Pharmacy phone number (203) 488-1631 will begin forwarding directly to CVS at that time.
The decision to sell her pharmacy business to CVS, in what’s known as an “asset transfer,” was a very difficult choice for Karen Ragonese, a second-generation owner of the Branford business co-founded by her late dad, pharmacist William Ward. Ragonese, Towne Pharmacy’s CEO/Pharmacist, joined her father's staff as a registered Pharmacist in 1983 and accepted ownership of the independent family-owned business in 2003.
A letter about the store closing and pharmacy transition, sent from the Ragoneses on August 9, was shared with pharmacy customers. In an exclusive interview with Zip06/The Sound, the Ragoneses, who are Branford residents, shared what their community and shoreline area customers can expect as the transition takes place.
A Difficult Decision
Karen Ragonese said it was a difficult decision to end a very successful, 54-year-run as a privately-owned pharmacy. While the choice seems sudden, the decision came after several years of withstanding impacts brought by the “...current health care industry climate,” she said.
“Basically, we had no choice, because of the current health care industry climate,” said Ragonese. “It’s not for lack of trying. We did not fail in the business model. That’s really important to me, because so many businesses, when a family takes it over, fail. I think it’s an accomplishment that we got it, and enlarged it, and made it a huge success.”
About ten years ago, she doubled the size of the shop, knocking down a wall between the original store and a vacated space next door. Some of that space was filled by the Durable Medical Equipment (DME) business Towne Pharmacy initiated 12 years ago, coordinated by Vincent Ragonese, who started the DME location shortly after retiring from a career in the areospace industry. Vince Ragonese said one bright spot amidst the news of Towne Pharmacy’s closing is that they will continue operating the DME business in a segment of the storefront at 1012 Main Street.
“I can’t tell you the people that come in and just thank us that we’re here as the people who supply the equipment,” he said. “There’s really no one else but us between New Haven and Old Saybrook.”
The business will be newly named “Down-Towne Medical Equipment,” or DME for short. He said the spelling of “Towne” in the DME name is a tip of the hat to the Towne Pharmacy name. On Thursday, August 15, the Towne Pharmacy sign will be covered by a new Down-Towne Medical Equipment banner. More information about DME will be posted at the storefront.
“We’ll have banner on the front window about ‘opening soon’ and the number to call if they need help on equipment or to find out more,” he said, adding DME customers and inquiries can be made by calling the existing DME business phone at (203) 488-1151.
As of August 15, DME will be closed for an anticipated two-week period to allow for retail certification of the name change, and any needed physical transitioning to create a separation from Towne Pharmacy’s former business operation area, he said.
“We had a lot of walk-in traffic. Now we’re going to look at more ways to market to continue that traffic,” he said, adding Karen Ragonese will continue to serve DME customers as its certified medical compression hosiery fitter.
“So we’re not really going away,” he said. “For durable medical equipment, keep us in mind.”
Saying Goodbye to Towne Pharmacy Customers and Staff
Karen Ragonese has been connected to Towne Pharmacy since childhood – she began working the register when she was still in elementary school. As its pharmacist, she has become an integral part many customers’ lives. She has countless stories of people who have come to rely on her, and those she’s come to know personally. But the customer profile is changing as other options for pharmacy care emerge. In fact, millennials are making it difficult for many pharmacies – even big chains – to stay viable.
"Millennials aren't going into [pharmacies]. They're ordering everything online. Every brick and mortar, even some of the chains; are having issues and they're cutting back," she said.
“Most of my people are elderly,” she continued. “They’ve been coming to me for so long. As the years pass, they develop a comfort zone where they realize what you’re doing is working with them to better their health care. And that’s not something that comes across a lot to the millennials. They don’t realize that we have a function here: to keep them healthy, to keep them at home, to help them when they are in need.”
Decades of sharing her knowledge with people who have come to trust her have helped build Towne Pharmacy’s reputation.
In the days leading up the Towne Pharmacy’s last day in business on August 14, she said her hope is that she will be able to have “a lot of conversations” with her regular customers as they come to pick up prescriptions or just say goodbye.
“I know it’s going to be hard, but I want to be able to have that conversation with them; and I would like to have time to say goodbye to them,” she said. “ I want to give a thank-you to the patients and customers who have been coming to me. I even have a couple who have been coming here since I was young, working the front register, selling newspapers.”
The goodbyes have already been underway with the Towne Pharmacy staff of six full-time and eight part-time employees; who were informed of the transition within the past week. Sharing news of the difficult decision to close the business was hard; but Karen Ragonese said she has also done her best to be “very open” with staff in recent years about the changes in the current health care climate impacting the pharmacy business, and, “... the struggle I’ve had to keep it going.”
In their letter informing customers of the pending closing, the Ragoneses also thanked all of their employees, past and present “...for their hard work and dedication to making this business become a comfortable and family friendly environment for our customers.”
As a local business, Towne Pharmacy served the community by joining in programs and efforts alongside local organizations including Rotary Club of Branford, Shoreline Eldercare Alliance, Branford Senior Center and the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce, to name a few. Karen Ragonese has also given back as a volunteer on the board of Branford’s Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking
In addition, “...we are proud of what we have accomplished with our local churches, school organizations and sports programs and hope that we provided our communities with lasting memories of our service vision,” the couple noted, in their letter to customers.
Possibilities for Another Retail Business
The Ragoneses strongly support what they feel is an important need to retain merchant businesses in Branford’s town center, especially with recent changes in the Main Street business landscape. In July, outdoor wear business Denali, an anchor in the town center, permanently closed its Branford location at 1004 Main St. Nearly two years earlier, in December, 2017, Branford Book & Card Shoppe permanently closed at 1024 Main Street, after 44 years in business.
It was very difficult for her to add to that list the closing of Branford's only downtown pharmacy, said Karen Ragonese.
"I worry about the people who relied on us being here," she said.
Closing Towne Pharmacy during Branford’s 375th anniversary is especially poignant as the Ragoneses discovered that a pharmacy has been operating continuously in that location since 1890, said Vince Ragonese.
“We didn’t realize there were pharmacies there since 1890 -- four other pharmacies were there before us,” he said. Pictures of all the pharmacies have been posted for the past month in a window display at the business.
The Towne Pharmacy building at 1012 Main Street remains in the Ward family with Karen Ragonese’s mom as its owner. After the Towne Pharmacy section of the storefront closes, Karen Ragonese, who developed a giftware business as part of her storefront offerings, said she is strongly considering the possibility of opening some type of new retail business within the location.
“I’ve thought long and hard, and now that it’s come to this, my hope is to be back with a new chapter,” she said. “In the meantime, Vince will be there with a business that people have come to rely on -- we’re actually both still going to be there.”
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