Longtime pharmacy closing for good


Valley News Business Writer

Published: 09-06-2020 11:47 AM

WOODSTOCK — Come Oct. 4, the Woodstock Pharmacy will have dispensed its last prescription.

Owner Gary Smith said Friday that the 167-year-old pharmacy would soon end its run, confirming speculation that has swirled for weeks.

Smith “concluded the best outcome” was to close the pharmacy and to sell customers’ prescription records to pharmacy giant CVS, which has a location in West Lebanon, according to an announcement he posted on the front door of the Central Street business. After 45 years at the helm, he noted the decision was made “with a very heavy heart.”

The decision to close Woodstock Pharmacy comes after a deal to sell the business to a group in town fell through last month. Smith, nearing retirement, had been seeking a buyer for the pharmacy for years.

The closing of the pharmacy would leave residents in the Kedron Valley along Route 4 between Hartford and Rutland without a pharmacy. Woodstock’s other pharmacy, Shire Apothecary, closed in 2013. There is a Rite Aid and Kinney Drugs in Randolph and a Rite Aid in Bethel.

However, the void may be temporary.

Windsor-based Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, which operates the Ottauquechee Health Center in Woodstock Village, is in talks with a pharmacy operator to open a site in the health center building, hospital spokesperson Amber Bedi confirmed.

She described the discussions as “very early” and “still in the planning stages” and didn’t expect anything to come together for at least “next few weeks or months.”

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Independently owned and operated pharmacies, like many mom-and-pop businesses that once thrived in American downtowns, have rapidly expired in recent years as a generation of pharmacists retire. Many can’t compete with monolithic chains and the rise of mail-order prescriptions.

Family Pharmacy in Enfield closed in 2019 and sold its prescription records to Hannaford in West Lebanon, followed two months later by the end of Chelsea’s sole pharmacy. Eastman Pharmacy in downtown Hanover shut down in 2014, and the pharmacy inside the Kmart store in West Lebanon shuttered in 2014.

Unlike sterile pharmacy chain stores with their factory floor-like layout, Woodstock Pharmacy, like the village itself, was a throwback to a more picturesque and homespun time.

Longtime customers effuse about how Smith and his employees knew their first names by heart. The store stocked a variety of unusual merchandise, from Vera Bradley floral handbags to a basement of quality toys, not available in the chain pharmacy at the shopping mall.

Several customers were lined up on the sidewalk outside the store Friday, waiting for an employee to bring their prescriptions to them as a COVID-19 precaution. Many of them, not noticing the announcement posted on the front door, were surprised and dismayed.

“We’ve always come here for stocking stuffers for Christmas, knickyknack-y things,” lamented Andrew Palazzo, of Pomfret. He mentioned “the toys in the basement” were always a destination for his kids.

“If you had to go to a birthday party, we bought it here,” he said.

“Closing? That’s nuts,” exclaimed Nate Titus, a 40-year customer and Ludlow contractor whose work often brings him to Woodstock. The pharmacy is convenient for his medical appointments at Ottauquechee Health Center. “The people who work here have been great over the years. Everybody knows your name.”

Smith declined to comment in an email to the Valley News, other than to say he and his 10-person staff “are working very hard with CVS to assure that our loyal customers’ prescription needs remain our number one priority.”

The closing of Woodstock Pharmacy will leave a gaping vacant retail space in the heart of the village, observed Jeffrey Kahn, chairman of the Village Trustees.

“It’s extremely sad. ... It’s a huge loss for us,” said Kahn, whose Unicorn gift store sits two doors away from the pharmacy.

Smith, for his part, let Woodstock know he found the decision wrenching.

“When I came home to manage the pharmacy in 1975, I was happy to be back in Vermont running the family business,” he said in the announcement on the door. “What I didn’t realize was how deep my love for the people of the area, and for my staff, would become. ... I will miss you all.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.


Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center is  based in Windsor. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported where it is located.