EAST HADDAM — On the same night that East Haddam’s only operating pharmacy closed its doors, owners from a group of regional independent pharmacies announced their intentions to fill that gap with a new Moodus pharmacy early next year — plus more ambitious long-term plans to expand it into a grocery store.
Greg McKenna and Chris Olender of Nutmeg Pharmacy said at a Monday night public meeting in East Haddam’s middle school that they’ve already signed a three-year lease for 38 William F. Palmer Road in East Haddam’s Moodus village, with plans to open a pharmacy in February. The audience of over 80 people applauded.
“Seven days ago there was nothing,” McKenna said in an interview after the meeting. “Now we’ve got a lease. We have drawings. We have it sent into the Board of Pharmacy. We have a construction company already pricing up the job, and we’ve got a pharmacist ready to go in there and do it.”
Nutmeg Pharmacy had already hired two drivers to offer delivery service to East Haddam before the pharmacy opens, McKenna said.
In the weeks before the meeting, news had circulated around town that Nathan Hale Pharmacy was closing on October 28 after operating in Moodus for 47 years and that customers’ accounts were being transferred to the CVS Pharmacy in East Hampton, which is about an 8-mile drive away.
“There will be a period of time when there is no pharmacy in Moodus,” said Bradley Parker, East Haddam’s director of senior services, during the meeting. “We’re here tonight to talk about what kind of services can be provided now and in the future.”
McKenna said his plan was to start with a relatively small 2,000 square-foot store on Palmer Road for the three-year lease, but “the dream” was to then expand and build a new building to function as a supermarket — addressing another gap left in East Haddam since the closing of Grist Mill Market earlier this year.
“I’m now in fact very close to finishing up gathering the lands to build not only a big pharmacy like you’re used to, but hopefully we can bring a supermarket to town,” McKenna told the audience, to another round of applause. “Nathan Hale left us some big shoes, and to fill those shoes we have to work a lot harder. We’ve got to work a lot harder, and let me tell you we know that… We’re going to be working our tails off.”
Seniors especially affected by closing
Bradley Parker, the director of East Haddam’s senior services, organized the meeting for residents to hear from McKenna. Originally Parker had planned to hold the meeting at the town’s Senior Center, but he rescheduled to the Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School cafeteria after hearing a resounding response from the public.
“There are a lot of seniors who can’t drive to East Hampton or Colchester or Deep River for their prescriptions,” he said during the meeting. The Nathan Hale Pharmacy closing had left many of them concerned.
When it comes to pharmacies, Parker said, a lot of seniors seek out delivery services and “that extra touch and extra care.”
Nathan Hale Pharmacy’s shareholders made the sale to CVS about a year following the November 2018 death of the Nathan Hale’s founder, Jack Herman, who was a widely admired figure around the town.
“Our pharmacists had been here a long time so they got to know the customers and and know their families,” said Nathan Hale business manager John Banta. “We want to send a message that we thank every customer for their patronage over the years.”
There were no plans to open a CVS Pharmacy in the former Nathan Hale space, Banta said.
CVS has made similar purchases of independent pharmacies around Connecticut in recent months, including Lenox Pharmacy in Manchester, Suburban Pharmacy in West Hartford, and an independently owned Quality Care Drug pharmacy in New London.
During the meeting Monday night, Parker said that when residents talked with him they were interested in a “small-town pharmacy. We want hometown service.”
Parker praised McKenna as “community-oriented, customer service-oriented, and caring.”
McKenna said in an interview that Robert Casner, chairman of the town’s Economic Development Commission, had contacted him about starting a pharmacy in East Haddam.
Nutmeg Pharmacy was formed in the past year out of a partnership between several independent Connecticut pharmacies, McKenna said.
They currently have locations in Higganum, in Essex’s Centerbrook hamlet, and in Norwich’s Taftville village. Bordonaro’s Pharmacy in Portland is also part of the group but retains its own branding.
Chris Olender, a co-owner of Nutmeg Pharmacy and operator of the Centerbrook pharmacy, said that small and independent pharmacies are able to take extra time and care with each customer.
“I think we do a good job not treating people like a number,” Olender said. “It’s very important to us to give each person their own individual respect. You take the time to take care of someone and it shows.”
McKenna said that a large number of former Nathan Hale customers had already switched over to Nutmeg Pharmacy for their prescriptions, which he said showed a large buy in from the community.
“We signed a three year lease because we’ve got to step up… Everyone’s devoting their lives to making sure something big is happening. So now the pressure is on to get this to happen,” he said.