Woodstock gets new pharmacy after 12 months sans scripts

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Business Writer

Published: 09-23-2021 9:42 PM

WOODSTOCK — Area residents no longer have to drive all the way to West Lebanon, Randolph or Rutland to pick up their prescriptions.

Smilin Steve’s Ottauquechee Pharmacy recently opened in Woodstock, bringing a pharmacy back to the town after the Woodstock Pharmacy closed nearly 12 months ago.

“We’ve been waiting to come here for some time and (are) excited to have finally made it,” said Jason Hochberg of Smilin’ Steve Pharmacies, whose family owns four other pharmacies in Vermont, on the phone from the new store earlier this week.

When the 167-year-old Woodstock Pharmacy closed last year, area residents worried that their community was following the fate of towns like Chelsea, Hanover and Enfield, where longtime locally owned pharmacies all closed in recent years, leaving them without a hometown pharmacy with familiar faces to fill their prescriptions.

Once a staple on every Main Street, the neighborhood pharmacy is fast vanishing from the American landscape as independent pharmacies become squeezed by pharmacy benefit managers — middlemen who negotiate prices on behalf of insurers and force pharmacies to sell at costs below which they can afford — and a simultaneous push by the insurers to shift beneficiaries to home delivery for medications.

But shortly after the Woodstock Pharmacy closed, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, which operates Ottauquechee Health Center, and DEW Properties, which owns the Pleasant Street building where the health center is located, negotiated with the Rutland-based Smilin’ Steve chain to open a new pharmacy in that building’s lower level.

The small, 1,000-square-foot dispensary, which also sells the usual over-the-counter medicines and health products, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Curbside service is available.

Hochberg said a key advantage for both the pharmacy and customers is that it is located in the lower level of the Ottauquechee clinic, so patients can go right from their doctor’s office downstairs to get prescriptions filled, “although we are open to everybody” — not solely clinic patients — he said.

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When the Woodstock Pharmacy closed, it sold its customer records to the CVS store in West Lebanon — which has been beset by staffing issues, forcing it to close on some weekends — so the new pharmacy business is building a customer base from scratch.

“We came in cold basically, brand new; we haven’t done much advertising,” said Hochberg, who with his father Steve Hochberg and brother Jeff Hochberg owns the Smilin’ Steve chain with two locations in Springfield and one each in Rutland and Ludlow.

“But we’re here because the town had a need,” he said.

Hochberg said he expects the Woodstock pharmacy will also draw people from surrounding towns such as Pomfret, Barnard, Bridgewater, Sharon and Hartland.

The new pharmacy will introduce home delivery service as “soon as I get a driver,” Hochberg said, as well as drive-up vaccination and self-administered nasal COVID-19 PCR test.

And whatever they don’t have at the Woodstock location, such as rehabilitation aids, can be quickly run over from one of the family’s other pharmacies, he added.

Hochberg, echoing the predicament of employers everywhere, acknowledged that hiring has been a challenge and is even requiring him personally to step in and cover unfilled positions at the store.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said on the phone from the Woodstock pharmacy this week.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

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