Local pharmacist adapts to challenges of serving public during a pandemic

Pharmacist Rick Williams 

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Curbside delivery is hopefully swift, safe and easy for customers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple task for workers, said Rick Williams, the owner of pharmacies in University City and Ladue.

“It really is a change in the whole model — when you move from people coming into your store, picking out what they want, going to a cash register and buying. Now we are doing all of that for them with the same [number of] people, so curbside is a challenge,” said Williams, who belongs to Congregation B’nai Amoona. 

Williams, whose family has been in the pharmacy business since the 1950s, said that before the pandemic, his business was already under “intense pressure by the insurance middlemen who control the pricing that we receive and control where patients are allowed to get their medication or what they pay to get their medication. Independent pharmacies are really challenged right now because our reimbursements oftentimes are below what we pay for drugs, but we want to take care of our patients.” 

While consumers may either be obligated to get drugs from mail order services or switch to those companies because they are cheaper, Williams aims to keep longtime customers by delivering a higher level of service than people might find in a “corporate environment,” he said.

“In these times, our community is in such a crisis because there are people who can’t work and people who don’t have money,” so Williams tries to emphasize the idea of shopping local “because the money that comes to me stays in the community. The money that goes to the other independent pharmacies stays in that community, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Williams, who owns Ladue Pharmacy and Millbrook Pharmacy.

During the pandemic, his pharmacies have continued to provide services other than just selling drugs. In April, his staff made 200 custom Easter baskets. 

As to the high level of service, in one case a senior, whose spouse was undergoing cancer treatment, needed a vaccine, so one of Williams’ pharmacists layered up in personal protective equipment and walked out to the customer’s car to administer the vaccine, he said.

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“That’s the kind of thing we do every day,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Williams said, “I think there is always hope. I have been through other challenges in my life, in business and other things, and I can’t tell anyone what the future holds and what normal will look like, but I know we will gain some normalcy again.”