Local pharmacy loses customers after labor unions mandate mail-delivered prescriptions

Pharmacist Stephen Cilento works Monday morning with co-workers at Bridge Pharmacy at  8912 Third Ave., in Bay Ridge.

Pharmacist Stephen Cilento works Monday morning with co-workers at Bridge Pharmacy at 8912 Third Ave., in Bay Ridge.

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y. –– Pharmacist Stephen Cilento chats with customers casually Saturday while preparing their prescriptions.

“I know them by first name,” he said.

The locally-owned Bridge Pharmacy, at 8912 Third Ave., in Bay Ridge gets most of its customers through referrals in the neighborhood and word-of-mouth, Cilento said.

The pharmacy lost 25 percent of its customers in 2008, he said, after New York City labor unions began mandating policy holders to get their prescriptions delivered by mail.

“In terms of losing people, it’s a lot of people,” Cilento said. “That’s the bulk of people in this neighborhood – workers.”

The mandate requiring workers to get prescriptions mail-delivered took a strong hit on small pharmacies nationwide, said the National Community Pharmacists Association director of public relations John Norton.

“Mandatory mail [prescriptions] is definitely a problem that we’re constantly on the lookout for,” Norton said. “If you’re an individually-owned pharmacy, 90 percent of your revenue comes from prescription sales.”

In most cases, the imposed mandates can cause small pharmacies to take a significant financial hit, or go out of business completely, Norton said.

Bridge Pharmacy relies on Bay Ridge locals, such as Meril Trilling, who opt for the locally-owned pharmacy because of its personable customer service.

“You go inside a big drug store and you just don’t feel that one-on-one,” said Trilling, who has been a customer at Bridge Pharmacy for more than 10 years.

“You get that one-on-one here,” she said. “That makes a very big difference when you’re not well, or have a family member that’s not well.”

Cilento and his business partner pharmacist Maria Georgakopoulos took on ownership of Bridge Pharmacy in 1998, shortly after the former owner sold the store’s customer records to Rite Aid.

“This is a working-class neighborhood,” Cilento said. “A lot of people are teachers, firemen, a lot of different union positions, and unfortunately over last few years a lot of those people’s benefits have changed where they’ve forced them to get their prescriptions through the mail.”

While Bridge Pharmacy has experienced a loss in their customer base, Cilento said the pharmacy has been relying on their customer service skills to remain in business.

“We don’t have the marketing like the bigger places,” he said. “We do it with service and that personal relationship … I think this neighborhood keeps that flavor.”