COKATO, MN When Shopko announced it would be closing many of its stores and auctioning off its pharmacy operation in January, some Cokato residents were left wondering where they would get their prescriptions filled.
They got their answer from a familiar name.
Kelly and Deb Keaveny, owners of Keaveny Drug, have announced they will be re-opening their Cokato location Monday, Feb. 18.
The Keavenys, who also operate a pharmacy in Winsted, operated a pharmacy in Cokato for many years before selling out to Shopko in 2015.
What has changed?
Shopko announced Jan. 16 that its parent company, Specialty Retail Shops Holding Corp., and 12 of its subsidiaries had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to excessive debt and a drop in retail store sales. Part of the reorganization process will include closing more than 100 stores nationwide, relocating optical centers, and auctioning off the pharmacy division.
While the Cokato Shopko store is not one of those slated closures, the pharmacy department will no longer be available to Shopko customers.
This created an opportunity for locally-owned and operated Keaveny Drug to re-open its doors to the community.
Keaveny Drug was established in 1933, with its very first store on Grand Ave. in Minneapolis. The Cokato location was opened in the late 1970s and is now run by Kelly Keaveny, a third-generation pharmacist in the Keaveny family, and his wife, Deb, who comes from a similar legacy of pharmacists.
In 2015, Shopko representatives made overtures to buy out the store and transfer customer files to the new store being built at 145 Broadway. Resistant to this change at first, Deb and Kelly soon realized they could not compete with the advertising budget and coupon incentives of a major corporate entity, and closed the Cokato location, transitioning clients and personnel to the Shopko pharmacy location.
Many small, privately-owned pharmacy businesses in the area, such as Howard Lake Drug, experienced a similar fate.
Skyrocketing health care costs mean low dispensation reimbursements for pharmacies and make private ownership difficult. Deb explained, “There are times that a prescription is dispensed and we make a nickel on it. That doesn’t even keep in mind the labor or operating expenses that go along with operating a pharmacy. That is where pharmacy has gone ... and we get abused by the health care industry, but we still show up, and we still help people.”
Now that Shopko has auctioned off the pharmacy business, Keaveny Drug has reclaimed its customers and staff and are working hard to open the store as quickly as possible to ensure there is no interruption of prescription services.
Deb commented that due to the suddenness of the announcement by Shopko, they [the Keavenys] are scrambling to get everything in place to open the store on time. A process that normally takes months is being done within a few weeks.
“The tricky part is getting the pharmacy license,” Deb said. “In a normal world, you fill out an application, wait for the board to meet and review your application, and then wait several weeks for acceptance.”
Hard work, persistence, and a good relationship with the board and other vendors means that Keaveny Drug will be able to have almost everything they need in place to service customers on very short notice.
As part of this expedited process of bringing back insurance and medication contracts, Keaveny Drug will partner with a small regional pharmacy chain, NuCara, that will provide additional support to the staff during this transition, as well as immediate access to different contracts that would take too long to obtain otherwise, and an updated platform for future business.
“It’s a good thing we have done this before,” Deb commented, looking back on the past few weeks. “We knew the steps to take and we had contacts.”
But, she also sees the difficulties ahead.
“This transition is a little different from before. There was plenty of notice and preparation to give notice to the affected customers and overcome any concerns that they may have about the change,” she said.
Even with all the moving parts and confusion, Deb is quick to reassure people in the community that their needs will be taken care of. The staff asks for patience and understanding from customers during the first few weeks of the transition as they stock and organize the new store, and update the fixtures, paint, and counters.
A waiting area with coffee and cocoa will be made available to customers if there is a delivery needed from Keavenys’ Winsted location.
Deb noted that re-opening the Cokato location will provide an opportunity to move away from a corporate feel and get back a small, family-owned business that is integrated into the town it serves.
She added that while many of the staff from Shopko, who were already transplanted from the surrounding local pharmacies, will go back to work at Keaveny Drug, they will no longer be held to an assembly line process that made customer service difficult.
Deb remembers the time before Shopko when, “People liked their pharmacist. They liked having their health care cohesively within a community,” and she is excited to get back to serving the residents of Cokato the way they always have.
“It will get back to the way it used to be, caring about the personal touch, answering questions, and making sure customers understand their medication,” Deb said.
It seems many residents agree that this change is good news for the community. Within a couple hours of announcing the intention to re-open on Facebook, there were more than 200 comments or likes from the Real Life in Dassel and Cokato community pages.
“People seem to be really supportive of it, and we are just so grateful for that,” Deb said. “This is a big, expensive, scary endeavor for us, but we feel like this is going to be OK because so far, the community has really supported us.”
The doors of the Cokato Keaveny Drug will open again Monday, Feb. 18, with a larger grand re-opening to be scheduled in the near future. The store is re-opening in its previous location at 205 Broadway Ave. S., in the Watertower Mall next to Snap Fitness.
Keaveny Drug re-opening Cokato location
• When? Monday, Feb. 18.
• Where? 25 Broadway Ave. S. in the Watertower Mall next to Snap Fitness.
• Hours? Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, closed.
• Phone? 320-286-2380.