Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy: Insurers Hurting Independent Pharmacies

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COBBLE HILL – As reported last week, Cobble Hill neighbors were saddened to see a beloved local business, Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy, suddenly shuttered.

Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy, 203 Court Street (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

BKLYNER spoke with the Pharmacy’s owner, Bassam (Sam) Amin, over the phone Monday morning as he cleaned up the now vacant storefront at 203 Court Street.

“I miss them all,” he says fondly of his customers whom he prefers to call his family. He  explains he had to close down his business because “independent pharmacies are faced with tremendous challenges.”

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Amin blames health insurance companies, saying they are “making it impossible to stay in business.” He notes that insurers reimburse mom-and-pop pharmacies only “two to three percent,” or “pennies to the dollar” on medications and “dictate” that city/state/federal employees and/or retirees must fill their prescriptions via mail order. He adds that specialty medications for asthma, chemotherapy, diabetes, HIV, etc., are also being “carved” out of the inventories of independent shops and being sold through 800 phone services.

These cuts to small pharmacies have grown increasingly “aggressive” over the years, “preventing independent stores from providing services to customers” and making it difficult for the businesses to profit and ultimately pay their rents and employee salaries. “It became an overwhelming burden just to survive,” Amin said.

While insurance companies promote these cuts as “cost saving” measures for customers, Amin insists they present challenges to consumers. Prescriptions delivered through the mail can be delivered late, get lost, and can compromise a recipient’s privacy, he argues.

Mail-order service also deprives customers of the personalized attention and care they receive at a small store like Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy where Amin and his business partner, John Capotorto, developed relationships with their clients and “helped them, comforted them, offered advice,” and happily “shared [their] knowledge.”

“At the end of the day, the customer suffers the most,” Amin says.

A Bay Ridge resident, Amin graduated from LIU and has been a practicing pharmacist for 26 years. He worked at CVS for nine years before opening up his own 700-square-foot shop at 205 Court Street in 2006. He moved across the street to 203 Court Street in 2012, more than doubling the size of his store. He partnered up with Capotorto at the new location where they had three full-time staffers and two part-time.

Amin says he could not let his staff know that he had sold the business until the closing date got nearer. He explains, as much as he wanted to tell them as well as the customers, his agreement with CVS, whom he sold the business to, prevented him from sharing the news.

He says the days leading up to the closure were difficult, describing the store as his “baby” and “second home.”

“It was a sad day for me not because I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t continue,” he says. “It’s been wonderful being able to serve the community and be a part of the community.”

Amin stresses how painful it was for him to “walk away from the business” adding “this was one of the best times of my life,” as well as “the highlight of my profession.”

Both he and Capotorto are considering joining colleagues at smaller pharmacies to continue doing what they enjoy, though the idea of opening a new store is “highly unlikely” as is the chance of his returning to the Cobble Hill area. He notes, “It was a pleasure for me to come to work every single day and see my friends.”

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for reporting on this, Pamela, and shedding some light on the mystery of the sudden closing of Wyckoff’s. This has been quite a jolt to the community. John has been our pharmacist at three different locations in the neighborhood for some 35 years and I know he has a loyal client base. The fact that the insurance companies are driving local pharmacies out of business is another reason why we need serious health care reform and different elected officials in power. Although I suspect it also has to do with the skyrocketing cost of real estate in the neighborhood. Now it’s more personal than ever.

  2. Like so many things that we take for granted, a neighborhood business is missed most when it’s suddenly closed. You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.

  3. Such a shock to find this happened. I specifically chose Wyckoff Pharmacy to support the smaller business owners rather then the corporate greed as witnessed today with CVS merger with Aetna. I too was required to have mail order service which was out of the question in this crime ridden city, (to leave expensive life saving medications at someone’s doorstep), who thought that one up, another greedy corporation working hand in hand. Thankfully I have been able to transfer my meds to a new location, closer to home. I chose Wycfoff also because Sam and John were so easy to talk to and at a font of valuable information. They and their staff served me well and I will miss them dearly. I am glad this article cleared up my questions.

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