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Penn Valley shop succeeds through quick convenience

George Boardman

Doug Wells has no trouble describing “the rotten part” of operating an independent pharmacy. “The hardest part of the job is when you are forced (by insurance companies) to work for free or at a loss, or to say goodbye to customers we’ve known for years,” Wells said last week.

“That’s the rotten part of the business and a good definition of stress.”

Wells and his wife, Carol, operate the Pleasant Valley Pharmacy at Wildwood Center in Penn Valley, one of two remaining independent pharmacies in western Nevada County.

They purchased the business in 1989, and have seen at least six independent pharmacies close since then. Insurance reimbursements are a big factor in the attrition rate.

Insurance companies set the rates they will pay pharmacies for filling prescriptions, and there is little room to negotiate. Pharmacies are frequently faced with the choice of working for little or no profit in the pharmacy, or turning away customers.

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As a rural pharmacy (“The only one in our ZIP code,” Wells said), Pleasant Valley has some room to negotiate reimbursement rates. “They understand we’re small, we’re in a rural area, and that people will have to drive a long way if they can’t use us,” he said.

Unlike larger pharmacies that make their profit selling greeting cards, toothpaste, gifts and other items, Pleasant Valley has to be profitable throughout its 2,100-square-foot store to remain viable.

Wells puts great emphasis on making the prescription-buying experience “as painless as possible.”

“You’re usually not feeling good in the first place. We try to get our customers in and out of the pharmacy in a reasonable time.”

But he also makes sure his customers have a clear understanding of the medicine they’re taking. “We counseled our customers before it was the law, and we’ve continued to emphasize it.”

In the front of the store, Wells says with a laugh, they sell the best selection of cards and gifts in “mid-southwestern Nevada County.” Wells has been a pharmacist since 1979 and, despite the problems, prefers to be his own boss.

“I decided if I’m going to work this hard, I might as well be in business for myself.”

Pleasant Valley has experienced a “small bump” in business since the closing of the Main and Dr. Marvel’s pharmacies, along with a lot of questions about whether the pharmacy will stay in business.

“I’ll be here as long as the community wants us here and it’s economically feasible to do so,” he said. “People can want us here all they want, but if their insurance company doesn’t, we’re gone.”


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