TARBORO — After 47 years of local ownership, Bryan Drugs has changed owners.
Last spring, New York businessman and pharmacist Ravikumar “Ravi” Somepalli purchased the well-known Tarboro drug store in an effort to diversify operations from the Northeast.
Somepalli, who spent 16 years as a pharmacy manager for Rite-Aid, said the pressure of doing things the company way helped him decide to leave the corporate world and connect with two partners — whom he described as friends from childhood — and go into the drug store business in 1999.
Eventually, the trio owned 42 stores in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and the District of Columbia, along with three stores in Detroit.
“Our first (drug store) was in Connecticut, and over the years, the word got out to owners of independent pharmacies as to how we ran our business and how we treated our customers and our employees,” he said. “Because of our reputation, we were able to grow as (independent) owners looked to sell.”
He said that it has become increasingly difficult to run a pharmacy, especially as an independent.
“Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, are making it more and more difficult,” he said. “The insurance companies looked to the PBMs to manage their claims and the insurance company may send $10 to the PBM to pay the pharmacy, but the pharmacy only gets $1.”
Somepalli said the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, the largest pharmacy group of its type in the country, had been fighting PBMs for the past seven years.
“We thought we needed to diversify, and North Carolina is very friendly to independent pharmacies,” he said.
So the trio started looking and found Dean Bryan’s pharmacy in Tarboro.
“Because we were going into a new area, we weren’t just looking to buy a place,” Somepalli said. “We did our research and our homework, because we wanted to become connected with pharmacies that had a good reputation and were well-respected in the community.”
Because it was important to be near the day-to-day operations, he relocated his family from New York to Cary.
“From Cary, it’s not hard to get to any of the locations,” he said.
Somepalli said they looked for two years in North Carolina before connecting with the type of operation they were seeking.
Bryan Drug was the first in the Tarheel State and has since been followed by two more, Pittman’s Pharmacy in Windsor and Medicine Park Pharmacy in Sanford.
He said he now has flexibility he never had with Rite-Aid.
“Good or bad, we will make a decision and go with it,” he said, noting that all decisions are driven by how they will benefit the customers.
“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “You have to take care of your customers and do what’s right and best for them.”
That includes battling insurance companies, some of whom are eliminating generics from their formularies to force clients to use a high-priced named drug.
“That’s because (insurance companies) get large rebates from the drug manufacturer, and it is not right,” Somepalli said. “It is not doing the right thing for the insurance customer.”
Since taking over operations, Somepalli said he has added staff at the store and has truly been made to feel welcome.
“Dean (Bryan) told me I needed to be more visible,” he said, “but for so many years, he has been the face of the store.”
Still, he said, Bryan has been a regular and comes by most every day to check in and see how things are going.
Somepalli said people can get all of their shots at the store, including flu, pneumonia and shingles.
“Because the flu is really getting going, we make sure we always have 20 to 25 doses on hand, because it can be hard to get because of recalls and the like,” he said.
Somepalli said Bryan Drugs continues to take all forms of insurance as well as having its own plan to assist customers.
Additionally, staff can get with a customer to help them select the best insurance plan for their needs.
“We have a program that allows us to check their medicines and their doctors. It shows all the options, including premiums and co-pays,” he said.
Somepalli said 25 to 30 people already have taken advantage of that free service.
Bryan Drugs, which also offers delivery, is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Brook Letchworth and Alan Robbins are the pharmacists on duty and someone always is on call for an after-hours emergency, he said.
Bryan Drugs, which is a DBA for Tarboro Chemists Inc., is located at 112 Hospital Drive, across the street from Vidant Edgecombe Hospital. The phone number is 252-823-3178 and the fax is 252-823-8055.