New Berlin Health Mart Seeks To Meet Many Community Needs

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OCEAN CITY – Pharmacies have evolved over the years, changing from the friendly neighborhood operation that offered personal service and a refreshing soda pop from the soda fountain to a mass of chain pharmacies that can be seen all over town. Pharmacists and long time friends Steve Marcalus and Duncan Runyon are bringing back the old-time feel of the friendly neighborhood pharmacy, but adding a modern twist, replacing the old soda fountains and candy jars with coffee makers and muffins.

Coastal Drug Center Health Mart and the Coffee Beanery has been open for nearly a month, with Runyon and Marcalus at the helm of the new operation. The new pharmacy/coffee shop is located in the new James G Barrett Medical Building on the Atlantic General Hospital Campus in Berlin.

“We’re a pharmacy first and a coffee shop second,” Marcalus said as he explained the unique dynamic of their new business venture.

Runyon and Marcalus attended pharmacy school together and have been friends for nearly 25 years. Runyon has spent the past few years as a pharmacist at CVS, while Marcalus has been working as a pharmacist at Wal-Mart. They explained that opening their own pharmacy had been a dream for some time, but that developments for their project began about two and a half years ago. Both men knew they wanted to change the pharmacy atmosphere and create a business that would be conducive to both of their philosophies.

“We’re trying to change the pharmacy atmosphere,” Runyon said of their pharmacy and coffee shop combination venture.

Both agreed that they wanted the feel of the old-time pharmacy to return but knew that a modern twist needed to be added.

“We’re living in the Starbucks era,” Marcalus said, explaining how the coffee shop idea was born.

“We wanted to have a very inviting and relaxing atmosphere,” Runyon said, explaining that people can bring in a prescription and instead of waiting in a tiny waiting area for what seems like an eternity for their prescription, people can enjoy coffee and a bagel, grab a sandwich, take advantage of the free Internet access, or simply relax next to the fountain in the lounge area.

Marcalus and Runyon began developing their dream, with the help of their wives, who are also pharmacists, two and a half years ago.

“We wanted the right location with the right look and feel,” Marcalus said.

They looked in Ocean City, in Delaware, and in Snow Hill for the perfect location. They found their ideal spot a year and a half ago when Michael Franklin, president and CEO of Atlantic General Hospital, approached them, explaining the hospital were looking to have a pharmacy that would serve as the cornerstone to the medical center. Marcalus and Runyon jumped on the offer, and a year and a half later they are running their dream store.

The store is split three ways, with one-third dedicated to the coffee shop, one-third for the lab section and one-third housing the typical over-the-counter pharmacy items. The pharmacy contains a private consultation room that allows for the pharmacists to talk one-on-one with customers, answering any questions they may have and helping them plan and manage their prescription use. Personal customer service is one goal that Marcalus and Runyon are determined to maintain.

Marcalus explained that disease management is another important element of the pharmacy. They are particularly targeting diabetes awareness and management, offering free blood glucose monitors. Marcalus also explained that Medicare is a focus and that selection of medicines as well as managing, monitoring and controlling meds and costs are a few of the issues that they take the time to discuss with customers.

Marcalus’s wife Susan has also played an active role in the pharmacy, offering medication therapy management to customers, which provides consultation for customers with two to three medical conditions and who are taking at least three to four medications.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the Coffee Beanery, which offers a wide variety of hot and cold drinks and bakery and lunch items provided by Connoisseurs.

“The food really is awesome,” Marcalus said of the Connoisseurs specialties.

The coffee area also provides plenty of seating, a relaxed environment, a flat screen TV and a bar area with free Internet access.

“We sought the best items to put into the product line,” Marcalus said, explaining that they wanted to avoid the gas station mentality of coffee and packaged muffins.

The rest of the store is made up of the typical pharmacy items, but Marcalus explained that the two went to great lengths, interviewing several doctors and hospital personnel, to provide the items that people needed the most. Walkers, walker wheels, crutches, soft collars and grab bars are just a few of the items that are in stock, items that people used to have to order online when the hospital ran out.

The store is also developing a wound care section, which will correlate with the Wound Care Center that will be opening next door.

The store also contains the general hygiene items, cold and cough and allergy medicines and eye products recommended by the neighboring eye doctor.

“We’re very happy with it,” Marcalus said of the overall set-up. “We want people to walk in and say, ‘this is terrific’.”

The fourth element of the store lies in the website.

“We’ve got the best Internet site available,” Marcalus said.

The website offers information on drugs, the option to order over the counter merchandise, the option to refill prescriptions and much more. Marcalus added that the site is easy to navigate but that a tutoring device is also available to take users through the entirety of the site.

So far the store and the website have been getting positive feedback and increasing growth. Both Marcalus and Runyon agreed that the biggest challenge has been getting the word out that they are open for business.

“Any new business is going to have growing pains,” Runyon said.

Despite the inevitable obstacles of operating a new business, Runyon and Marcalus are confident business will continue to grow as it has in the first month. They explained that 9 to 11 tenants are to be moving into the medical building over the next year, which they predict will have a significant impact on business. They have already seen an influx of business after just one tenant moved into the building. They also are expecting an increase once the summer vacation mode comes to an end and people return to the routine of the school year.

With business snowballing and a grand opening coming in October, Marcalus and Runyon have high hopes for the future.

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