* 23,000 - Independent pharmacies in the U.S.
* 300,000 - People employed by community pharmacies
* 40 - Percent of all retail prescriptions dispensed by the independent businesses
Source: National Community Pharmacists Association
Belvoir Pharmacy, one of Chattanooga's oldest independent pharmacies, has filled the last prescription at the 84-year-old business.
Owner Alex Rhoton said Thursday he's retiring and closed the doors of the Brainerd Road fixture that has operated since 1929. Its last day was Wednesday, he said.
"We're boxing everything up," Rhoton said as he stood halfway outside the door of the business that has operated at 4501 Brainerd Road since it was founded.
A big sign on the door said prescriptions have been transferred to the CVS Pharmacy at 5501 Brainerd Road.
Neighbors said they're sorry to see the pharmacy go.
"It's one more vacant building here," said Byron Lipscomb, manager of The Pouch Place across the street. "It's a sign of the times."
Longtime patron Emily McDonald, who has used the pharmacy since 1969, said it had a neighborhood feel to it.
"I will miss them. I've moved several times and they still delivered to me," said the former Chattanooga Times Free Press employee, noting that if she had a question about a prescription, Rhoton and his staff would answer it for her.
Independently owned pharmacies continue to face lots of competition from the big chains and their numbers have receded.
However, Kevin Schweers, the National Community Pharmacists Association's senior vice president of public affairs, said the independents have managed to hold their own the last five years or so.
He said customer surveys show people are more satisfied at independent pharmacies and cite better service.
"They say that 'We go there because we're a name not a number,'" Schweers said.
He said local pharmacies keep the dollars they make in the local community.
"They also offer services the big box stores don't," he said, citing home delivery, durable medical equipment and compounding.
But, Schweers said, the middlemen between the pharmacies and health plans often display a "take it or leave it" attitude in dealing with the independents.
"There's little wiggle room in terms of what the reimbursements will be," he said. "If there's a larger entity...my understanding is that they give them more leeway."
Schweers added that the growth in preferred pharmacy plans tends to disadvantage independents.
"That's a frustration for community pharmacists," said Schweers, whose association states that it represents 23,000 of the businesses in an $88.7 billion health care marketplace.
Rhoton has owned the business for more than 18 years, according to newspaper archives. "Skinny" Wolfe established the pharmacy and sold it to Fred Brown in 1934. Selden Landress also was a former owner.
Lisa Peponis, who works at the Balloon Factory next door to Belvoir Pharmacy, said she hates to see the business go away, noting that some of its employees would come by her store.
"I don't want to see an empty building next door," she said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.