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Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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Closing of Forer Pharmacy Inspires Reflections on State of Local Businesses

Dilshanie Perera

The last independently owned and operated pharmacy in Princeton closed quietly last week, with the awning reading “Forer Pharmacy” removed by the next day. A sign in the window explained that it had been sold to the national pharmacy chain CVS.

While the circumstances of the closing of Forer do not fit with the usual pattern of big box or national chains crowding out smaller independently-run operations with limited resources, the closure of another independent business highlighted the struggle faced by local merchants, particularly retailers.

Clothier Nick Hilton, who owns and operates Nick Hilton Princeton on Witherspoon Street, and is also the founder of the independent merchant organization Hometown Princeton, explained that business owners are “really concerned with preserving the special nature of the Princeton community, and making it more appealing.”

“We’re all looking out for our businesses, but there is a certain ecological and environmental sensitivity to [the Buy Local movement] too,” Mr. Hilton suggested, emphasizing that “local independents are unique kinds of retailers. Take Forer Pharmacy. It was near the hospital and people could go there directly to have their prescriptions filled.”

The personalized aspects of local independent businesses, and the friendships that develop around them, are something that larger, more impersonal national chains can’t provide, according to Mr. Hilton.

In selling the business he and his twin brother Ira have operated over the past four decades, Mel Atlas of Forer Pharmacy said that the most difficult part of parting with the store is “giving up all the relationships you’ve built up over 40 years.”

Describing saying goodbye to his customers as “heart-wrenching,” Mr. Atlas said that in the last days Forer Pharmacy was open many clients stopped by. “There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs. We’ve had customers for 30, 35, 40 years.”

Mr. Atlas acknowledged that CVS Pharmacy had approached the brothers in the past to inquire about purchasing the business. “We had many other potential buyers as well, and we felt that we wanted to end our era of association with the pharmacy.

“Forty years is enough time to put into any business. It’s been hard over the past year or two to come to the decision [to sell]. Business was still good, and we could have stayed …. Still, standing on your feet all day is tiring, and enough is enough. It was time to give it up,” Mr. Atlas conceded.

While the business was sold to CVS, the building remains in the possession of Mel and Ira Atlas. “There’s not a lot of certainty when it comes to that,” Mel Atlas said as to whether he was planning to sell or rent the building, though he admitted that his current inclination is to sell it “unless I got somebody to lease it and I knew that they would be an ongoing business.”

Currently, they are in the process of “weighing the decisions,” with Mr. Atlas commenting that they were in no rush, though he expected conclusions to be reached within the next three to six months.

The two brothers’ relationship with Forer Pharmacy began just prior to 1970, when Ira worked for the original owner, Marv Forer. About six months after Ira left his job there, he got a call from Mr. Forer saying that he was interested in selling the store. The brothers finalized the deal and within six months had also purchased the building, Mel said.

Though the closure is bittersweet, Mel Atlas admitted that “all good things come to an end, and it was time. I know it was the right time to do it.”

Mr. Hilton is hoping that community support for local independent businesses remains strong and grows stronger. “We have worked really hard to convince people they can find what they need in town … we don’t compete with local people, we compete with chains and internet stores.”

“If I want something special, unique and different, I go to those kinds of [independent] stores. That’s what we’re fighting to keep alive,” he added.

For more information about Hometown Princeton, visit

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