By John Morton
For the first time in 65 years, there will not be a Davidson-run drugstore in the Siesta Key Village.
On Oct. 28, the venerable Davidson Drugs business located at 5124 Ocean Blvd. in the plaza that bears its name closed its doors.
“Sad news, indeed,” Mark Smith, the Sarasota County commissioner who previously was a board member of the Siesta Key Village Association, said of the news. “Davidson Drugs has been an institution in Siesta Village since I grew up here. It will be terribly missed.”
The Davidson Drugs in Siesta Key’s Southbridge Mall at 6595 Midnight Pass Rd. will continue to operate, but only as a general store. Its hours will not change, it will feature the same merchandise mix, and it will keep its longstanding U.S. Post Office.
However, the company’s pharmacy operations — the backbone of its humble beginnings — have been eliminated altogether. On Oct. 18, all pharmacy files and prescriptions became property of Walgreens via a transaction between the two businesses, according to Richard Davidson, president of Davidson Drugs. Customers of the Davidson’s store in Davidson Plaza in the Village will now have their needs met at the Walgreens at Bee Ridge Road and U.S. 41. The customers at the Davidson’s in Southbridge Mall will be using the Walgreens at Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
“We’ve done Siesta Key a great service and it’s terrible that we’re leaving (the Village),” Davidson said. “My father was adamant that a pharmacy remained on Siesta Key, and we thought we had found someone, but they couldn’t make the numbers work.
“We were offering our two vacant units (nearby on Avenida Madera, where the Davidsons serve as landlords) and were even willing to subsidize the rent.”
That father, John Davidson, was the man who brought the island its first pharmacy when in 1958 he set up shop with what he called the Siesta Key Pharmacy in the location that’s now home to Beach Bazaar across the street. Later, he’d help build Siesta Village Plaza and his pharmacy became the anchor. Eventually, the complex would become Davidson Plaza.
“Obviously, he’s saddened,” Richard Davidson said of his father, who’s now 92 and still involved in the business but in a limited role due to health issues. “He’s a pharmacist by education. When he was an owner/operator, he was the one filling the pills.”
Why the closing?
“It’s a business decision – it boiled down to that,” Richard Davidson said. “The pharmacy was pulling down the store. It probably should have been done a couple of years ago.”
Davidson pointed to ongoing challenges with changes in prescription reimbursement, mostly related to Medicare Part D, as the largest factor.
“It was always bad, and now it’s really bad,” he said of the control on reimbursements and how they’ve deteriorated as the result of pharmacy benefits managers who he likened to “a fox who watches the hen house.”
“It’s all regulated,” Davidson continued. “You can’t make your own fair retail price like the old days.”
He said today’s system “put the nail in the coffin for independent pharmacies like us.”
Furthermore, Davidson said the need to support the hiring of pharmacists and technicians was also a strain, as were the cost of operations. “We also had two vans and provided free delivery. There are a lot of expenses,” Davidson said.
My-Huong Ta, operator of Siesta Village Dentistry which is one of Davidson Plaza’s tenants, was among those who relied on the pharmacy.
“It’s a shock for many of us,” she said of the news of the closing, “especially because we call in prescriptions for our patients to the Davidson’s drug store often. My patients are very surprised and some of their workers were in distress because they will be out of a job.”
Ta abruptly found out about the pharmacy’s closure through a typical transaction.
“When I called in a prescription for a patient (on Oct. 17) the pharmacist staff told me that in 10 minutes — at 6 p.m. — it will be turned over to Walgreens and it will be shut down completely,” she said, noting that her next call the following day went directly to Walgreens.
“Needless to say, I’m sorry to see the drugstore closed,” Ta added. “I hope the workers can get jobs elsewhere soon, and that the Davidsons are doing well.”
Speaking of employees, of which the store had about 15, Davidson said he often had trouble finding and keeping them in recent years.
“Sarasota is getting too expensive to live in, so we were having to hire people who live further away in places like Bradenton. And they’d tell us the drive was too much,” he said.
One of the endeavors in which the Davidsons will continue be involved is the management of its vast amount of commercial real estate – a collection to which the Village drugstore has now been added as available. Davidson said it’s already being marketed.
“It’s pretty valuable space,” he said of the 8,500 square feet.
When asked what he prefers to see occupy it, he said “All I can say is that it can’t be another drugstore. That’s part of our agreement with Walgreens.”
FROM JOHN AND RITA DAVIDSON:
“I want to thank the generations of loyal customers and patients who have supported Davidson’s over the last 65 years. I deeply appreciate all the employees who have worked to make Davidson’s a unique and friendly place to shop since 1958. Thousands of patients have trusted our pharmacists for their prescription needs and professional advice.
“All six of our children, as well as several grandchildren, have been employees since the early years, making this a true family business. As children, they might sweep the floors or straighten the shelves. Eventually, they were able to work the cash register. I am very proud of my sons Richard (president of Davidson Drugs) and Bob, who have devoted many years to the success of one of the longest-running businesses in Sarasota.
“But times change, and now is the right time to move on. It may be the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one.”
“John has often reminisced about the early years on Siesta Key. The Village was a place where everyone knew everyone, charming boutiques carried high-end merchandise, one could buy the best preppy clothes at Conrad Egan, Anna herself was in her deli making sandwiches, John MacDonald could regularly be spotted having lunch, girls from Out-of-Door Academy occasionally tied up their horses to shop at the drugstore, Dr. Freeman Epes made house calls, and the best sundaes were to be had at the Davidson’s soda fountain.
“There are too many stories to begin to recall, but suffice it to say that John Davidson has always been in the center of the action, always working to improve the community, for 65 years.”