Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
GRANVILLE -- Closing the doors of a 43-year local institution was not something that longtime independent pharmacy owner Marlin Weekley of Metamora wanted to be doing last month.
Granville Drug had survived a tornado that rolled through this north-central Illinois village in 2004 and had re-emerged in a new building in 2005, which was when Weekley bought the business from founder Dave Thompson.
But Weekley concluded he could not weather a storm of other factors that had contributed to loss of business and profits over the past three years. On May 30, the downtown store was shuttered, and calls to its longtime number were being referred to a Walgreens store in Peru.
“We decided to close it,” Weekley said. “Walgreens bought the assets, the prescription drugs and files.”
Weekley emphasized there were multiple reasons for closing what had long been the only drugstore in Putnam County, which has about 6,000 residents. Among them, he noted, shopping patterns have led more people to get their prescriptions filled in areas where they buy other items, and the recent resignation of the store’s main pharmacist had underscored another issue.
“The store just wasn’t profitable enough to hire another full-time pharmacist,” said Weekley, 62, who also owns stores in Metamora and Lacon.
But one of the factors feeding into that analysis involved reductions and delays in state of Illinois payments for Medicaid patients, Weekley pointed out.
“I can identify about eight factors, and I would pretty much have to divide them equally,” he said. “Public aid was probably about 15 percent of the problem.”
Indeed, the state’s delays in making payments can be very burdensome to businesses that have historically been committed to serving Medicaid patients, said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Springfield-based Illinois Pharmacists Association.
“Sometimes the delay in the payment cycle does put financial strain on pharmacies, particularly independent pharmacies,” Reynolds said.
It’s not a new problem, he added. When a southern Illinois pharmacy that his own family had operated for 29 years closed in 2002, late state payments were “a major factor in our decision at the time,” Reynolds said.
Likewise, family-owned Blessman Pharmacy in Canton saw the same fate in 2011 after 42 years in business.
But it’s an issue that has more recently put increasing pressure on independent drugstores and also brought very unflattering attention to Illinois, said John Norton, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Community Pharmacists Association. There are about 700 independent pharmacies in Illinois, he said.
Page 2 of 2 - “I’m reading a lot of articles about how harsh it’s getting in Illinois,” Norton said. “Illinois is a high-profile state in terms of having problems (with state payments).”
The potential good news for Granville-area residents is another company is exploring the possibility of opening a local store. Axline Pharmacy Inc., which has outlets in Monmouth, Roseville and Bloomington, hopes to do so if a suitable location can be found, said Rob Bean, a Granville native who manages a Bloomington store.
The shuttered local store probably would not be an option because of non-competition agreements that are typical when prescription businesses are sold, Bean said. But Axline believes that the area can support a store and the Medicaid payments issue would not be a decisive factor preventing that.
“That’s certainly a problem for independent pharmacies,” Bean said. “In our situation, we think it’s manageable.”
Former Granville Drug owner Thompson, an ex-Marine who started the store in 1970 and had continued to work part-time for Weekley, said he certainly hopes a new store will open, and believes the area would support it.
“I still think there’s a place for (independent drugstores) in these small towns,” said Thompson, 71. “You’ve got a lot of older people who need help with their prescriptions and they want to talk with the pharmacist.”
One resident in that category had filled a prescription elsewhere shortly after the store’s closing and then promptly called Thompson at home for further advice, he said. Thompson then apologized for needing to cut off a phone call from a reporter after hearing a call-waiting signal on his line.
“He’s trying to call me back right now,” Thompson said.
Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or email@example.com. Read his Northern Circuit blog at pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.