A CVS and a Walgreens sit on two of the three corners across from the 165-year-old Harding and Parker drug store. As drug store chains have moved into the area and historic pharmacies in the Crossroads have thinned out, Bobby Bianchi has remained a fixture.
For the past 60 years, he has been a pharmacist at different stores across the Crossroads, including now-closed Ferguson’s Town and Country Drug, Gulf Bend Center and Harding and Parker, where he still works.
Joe Cohen, the 77-year-old former owner of Harding and Parker, has worked there since his preteen years. He said some of the store’s customers have been getting their prescriptions filled at the store for five generations.
“We have a company, and we try to go to people who are part of Victoria,” said Victoria Lawrence, who has been getting her prescriptions filled at Harding and Parker for years. “They’re part of our family.”
But, Bianchi said, as the years have gone by, the industry has changed.
“You had time to talk. They were friends instead of customers back them,” Bianchi said. “I still consider a lot of them friends, but you just don’t have the time anymore.”
Between stints working at local pharmacies, Bianchi bought his own, Village Pharmacy, in 1974. In 1989, he sold it to a cousin. It is no longer operating.
Although customer loyalty is high, Wayne Adickes, vice chairman of the Cuero Museum Board, which oversees the Pharmacy and Medical Museum of Texas, said that isn’t enough to compete against chains.
“They’re not doing well holding up against the chains,” Adickes said. “The private pharmacy is almost non-existent.”
Life Care Pharmacy, a San Antonio-based pharmaceutical network, bought Harding & Parker from Cohen in 2016. It bought Cuero’s 174-year-old Reuss Pharmacy, Texas’ oldest continually operating drug store, in 2015.
Prem Kalidindi, who owns the two pharmacies, wrote in a statement that he is interested in buying historic pharmacies because he wants to preserve their tradition in Texas.
“(Our goal is) keeping business alive and continuing to give the personal customer service that both the pharmacies have given,” Kalidindi said.
Though Kalidindi said new ownership has helped the two pharmacies increase efficiency, Bianchi said older stores like Harding and Parker still struggle to compete with chain pharmacies, which he said manage to fill upward of 1,000 prescriptions per day and benefit from the ability to buy drugs in bulk at a lower cost.
“We don’t fill near what they do,” Cohen said. “But our business has increased considerably in the last three or four years.” He declined to say how many prescriptions the store fills a day.
Central Drug on Laurent Street, which opened in the 1950s, is one of Victoria’s few locally owned drug stores that has managed to hold on throughout the years.
“We treat all our customers like they’re our only customer,” said owner Steve Branch on how the store has maintained its success over the years.
At Harding and Parker, 87-year-old Bianchi continues to work, now as a part-time employee, and shows no sign of retiring any time soon.
“If I retired now, I don’t know what I’d do,” Bianchi said.