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Owner says the independent store is another casualty of unfair trade practices

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Jeanne Mendazona (center) says there were tears when she told her employees they were closing. 'We're like a family.' Clockwise from left Brianna Pineda, Lizzie Steuart, Brenda DuPont, Heather Rowley, Erica Solis, Ayden Pinda and Bill Croco in the back.

Hometown Drug in Madras will close after 25 years in business. On June 29 at 6 p.m., all calls to Hometown Drug will transfer directly to the pharmacy at the Madras Safeway a few blocks away. "I can suck air for only so long," said Hometown Drug owner and pharmacist Jeanne Mendazona. Safeway purchased the company's prescription files. The Hometown Drug store, on Northeast Oak Street, will remain vacant until it gets a tenant, which cannot be a pharmacy, according to the agreement with Safeway. The other two tenants in the building will remain. Mendazona says the playing field for the pharmacy industry leans heavily in favor of the large pharmaceutical companies. "We are getting choked out by the likes of CVS Caremark and Caremark Pharmacy Benefits Managers," she said. Mendazona has long fought the practice of PBMs paying its partner companies more per prescription than they pay independent pharmacies for filling the same prescription.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) agrees the practices look like unfair trade. In December, Wyden noted 1,200 independent rural pharmacies like the Madras Hometown Drug have closed. Wyden pledged to push the Federal Trade Commission for change.

"I heard him say he was going to make changes in 2024," said Mendazona. "People like me can't just suck air hoping something is going to change." In addition to paying smaller reimbursement for the prescriptions they fill, PBMs also charge independent pharmacies exorbitant fees for access to the network to fill prescriptions.

The pinch squeezes the profit margins too thin for the Mendazonas. Now Mosaic Medical, their second largest prescription provider, opened a competing retail pharmacy in its clinic. That competition posed another factor in Mendazona's decision to sell its client list to Safeway.

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - The Madras Safeway's Managing Pharmacist Shani Rehwinkel says all of her employees live in Madras. 'So customers won't lose that home town feel.' Safeway acquired the contracts from BiMart when that pharmacy closed last year. "So we're prepared," said Shani Rehwinkel, the pharmacist in charge of the Safeway pharmacy. Rehwinkel realizes more business could make lines longer for customers at the Safeway pharmacy and plans to make changes to reduce those waits.

Rehwinkel recognizes the pay structure in pharmacy retail favors chains like Safeway over independent stores like Hometown Drug and is not surprised to see independent stores closing. "My whole staff is from Madras," she said. "They're not losing that hometown feeling."

After 25 years at this location, Mendazona says it was a difficult decision. "I feel like I'm leaving a post where I'm supposed to be looking over people and trying to make sure they're okay," she said. "I feel vested in the people I take care of."

The Mendazonas hold part ownership in four other drug stores in other Oregon communities, and own rental properties. Mendazona herself expects to continue working in some capacity related to her skills and license as a pharmacist.


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