Tue07292014

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Safeway buys Los Altos Pharmacy: Mom-and-pop shop stays local for now, but adds corporate logo


Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Staff at Los Altos Pharmacy anticipate remaining on the job as Safeway takes over. The pharmacy has made a name for itself with compounding consultations and seminars.

A family business since 1934, Los Altos Pharmacy is changing with the times this fall. A “Safeway” sign should appear above its Second Street doors as of Dec. 13.

Owner Bart Nelson, son of the pharmacy’s founder, sold the 78-year-old business to Safeway earlier this month. He said he and many of the staff plan to stay on as the pharmacy changes name.

The pharmacy is expected to remain open at 255 Second St. until it moves a few blocks away to the renovated Safeway planned at 160 First St. As that project wends through the design and permitting phases, it could be years before the familiar pharmacy closes its doors for good. Safeway will maintain prescription files, telephone lines and computer information for pharmacy customers, according to Nelson.

Pharmacies have long existed in Safeway stores, according to Safeway representative Keith Turner, including more than 100 in Northern California. Nelson said Safeway was interested in expanding the scope of wellness care in new stores like the one planned for Los Altos.

He noted that as President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms take effect in 2014 and after, the pharmacy business may change and grow, with pharmacists increasingly offering consultations as well as filling prescriptions.

“What you’re seeing at some of the new Safeways is more consultation management offices,” Nelson said, noting that he anticipated the inclusion of this feature in the new Los Altos Safeway. “In addition, Los Altos will have a new compounding lab – they’re going all-out to make the Los Altos store one of the centers for compounding for Safeway.”

This isn’t the first time a gigantic retailer caused the family-owned business to adopt a radical makeover. When Walgreens opened in 2003 less than a block away, Nelson saw a 20 percent drop in profits – and accelerated his business’ focus on the niche world of compounding. Los Altos Pharmacy specializes in compounding custom-made medicines with specific doses, flavors or delivery methods for individual customers. Want a lollipop or popsicle version of a prescription for an ornery child? A chicken-flavored pill for a finicky pet? They can find a solution for you.

“The industry is going through another evolution. It seems that we go through these about every decade. Every time there’s an evolution, you either change on the front end of it or you get left behind,” Nelson said. “Sure I can work until I’m 80 or 85 or 90, however it takes a ton of energy and a ton of financial support to evolve every 10 years.”

Nelson said his business has developed seminars and private consultations in tandem with its compounding specialty, evolving a business model beyond filling mainstream prescriptions – and that this apparently fit with Safeway’s own long-range plans.

Turner noted that Los Altos already offers women’s health and other consultations and added that the chain’s commitment to wellness and preventive care means its philosophy aligns with that of Los Altos Pharmacy, driving the merger.

Safeway purchased the pharmacy business but not the physical building and land on Second Street, which remain in Nelson’s hands. He said he has no idea what might take the pharmacy’s place a few years down the road, once the envisioned Safeway renovation becomes a reality.

Turner said a projected opening date for the new store is still a “moving target.”

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