NORTH SMITHFIELD – Historically, the businesses – and the knowledgable help you could find behind the counters inside – played a vital role in communities across America. Independent pharmacies, however, have disappeared in recent decades, replaced in large part by national drugstore chains.
But at their new space in Park Square, North Smithfield native Hasan Iqbal and his cousin Zahan Akbar plan to bring back the patient-focused model, where pharmacists actually make it a point to know their customers’ names.
And they’ll do it in a space with a long history in town as an independent, family-operated pharmacy.
The cousins have opened Park Square Pharmacy in the same plaza where the Dalti family ran a business with the same name for decades. That business closed in 1995, and the space has been vacant since the more recent closing of North Smithfield Urgent Care.
At a grand opening event on Friday, Oct. 6, members of the Dalti family will celebrate with the new owners – beneath the same, “Park Square Pharmacy,” sign that greeted patients to the Eddie Dowling Highway building in years now long past.
“The Dalti family has been very kind to us,” said Iqbal. “They come by. They visit and they walk around.”
The opening marks the expansion of a small, independent pharmacy chain for the cousins, who also own and operate Atwood Pharmacy in Johnston.
“Our original intention was to open up in this area,” Iqbal explained.
The pair grew up spending much of their time at Masjid Al-Islam, a mosque still active nearby on Sayles Hill Road. Iqbal moved away at age 14 and later obtained Doctor of Pharmacy from the Florida A & M University, starting his career as a community pharmacist. His areas of expertise include medication therapy management, immunizations and over-the-counter medications.
And he said his favorite part of being a pharmacist is getting to know his patients and providing personalized patient counseling.
“At the end of the day, to become a pharmacist, it is a doctoral degree, but many lose touch of what’s important, and that’s our patients,” Iqbal said. “We have conversations with them. At our other location, we know each and every customer by name.”
Iqbal noted that often, patients have prescriptions sent in from multiple specialists as well as their primary care, and the medicines could conflict.
“Pharmacists need to be more hands on with each and every one of their patients,” he said.
The more personal approach means an actual human will answer the phone, with no automated system or text blasts.
“They’re making it harder and harder to reach an actual person,” he said of the larger corporate-owned pharmacies. “We offer services that aren’t as available at the chains.”
Asked why there’s so few independent pharmacies left, Iqbal, perhaps not surprisingly, has much to say on the subject.
“It’s hard to compete with the big guys,” he said. “These larger corporations make it hard to compete. They have a million locations and own the insurance companies, and doctors as well. They’re the ones auditing you. They own the entire process, and that’s why the independents are dying out.”
While the patient-focused approach at Park Square may mark a return to an old way of doing business, the pharmacy is otherwise fully modern, with scripts filled online and records transferred with the push of a button. The pharmacy will offer contactless delivery, walk-in vaccinations and immunizations, and COVID-19 testing in house.
Iqbal said that he personally plans to work at the new location six days a week for the foreseeable future. In Johnston, the cousins’ pharmacy now boasts a staff of seven.
The business opened earlier this month but next Friday starting at 10 a.m., they’ll hold the official ribbon-cutting with surviving members of the Dalti family. The family, Iqbal said, plans to bring old newspaper clippings documenting the pharmacy’s history, with former staff also in attendance. They’ll also have light refreshments and giveaways including an Echo Fire tablet.
It’s all part of getting to know the community they plan to serve.
“What we are, first, is a pharmacist to our patients,” said Iqbal. “We’re their health care provider. If we don’t have our service, we have nothing.”
Park Square Pharmacy is now open Monday through Saturday in the Park Square Medical Building at 65 Eddie Dowling Highway.