Column: Benefits of The Local Call

Hometown charities get a buck; I get a free iPhone case

Due to some unpleasantness in my gastro-intestinal tract, I spent this past Friday night in the University of Michigan Hospital.

The author's iPhone, clad in its new case: "I do have an iPhone, a wonderful gadget that can tell me what drug stores are near my house ..."

Happily, I was not sick enough to stay very long, so I was kicked to the curb on Saturday afternoon, clutching a prescription for oxycodone. [No, that’s not a typo – it’s the generic version of OxyContin.]

I need the stuff for my stomach pain, which – for reasons the UM docs could not quite explain – has lingered past any sign of inflammation that can be detected by a CT scan or in my bloodstream.

I asked the nurse who checked me out whether I could get the meds at any pharmacy, thinking that perhaps high-octane opiates are reserved for hospital dispensaries. “Well,” she said, “that’s why you have a prescription.”

Yes, but filling a prescription on a Saturday night is not so easy. There are no fewer than four stand-alone pharmacies within a mile radius of my house on the West Side – five if you count the one inside Kroger’s. I struck out at three of them.

First I tried the CVS on West Stadium, which a few years ago abandoned a perfectly serviceable store in the strip mall on West Liberty, across from the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital, for a larger space half a block away. Company bean counters must have justified the expense of this move with data showing they can sell more stuff in more square feet. But they don’t sell prescription meds at 5:55 p.m. on a Saturday night, because the pharmacists go home at 6, and five minutes isn’t enough time to fill a pill bottle and process the necessary paperwork.

There’s a brand new Walgreens on Jackson Avenue, just a few blocks away. Their business plan for capturing a slice of the west side medicine market does not, apparently, include offering more service hours than the competition: Walgreens pharmacists also go home at 6 p.m. on Saturdays. It’s the same story across the street at Rite Aid, in the north corner of the Westgate lot.

At this point, I was about ready to give up, with grudging admiration to the pharmacists’ guild for ensuring their members don’t have to work on Saturday nights. My sore – but not inflamed – stomach, I reasoned, could probably last until morning. But I was headed north anyway, so I made one last try at Village Pharmacy II, in the Maple Village mall across from the Veterans Memorial Park softball fields.

This shop – the only locally-owned business in the bunch – has pharmacists on duty until 9 p.m. I dropped off my prized painkiller script, and decided to celebrate with a bag of M&M’s on the way out. A friendly saleswoman directed my attention to a small display of homemade baked goods, explaining that proceeds benefit the Peace Neighborhood Center and Food Gatherers, two very fine local charities.

For a measly buck, I picked up two chocolate chip cookies and a brownie. I felt well satisfied for my one dollar investment, but it got better – a lot better. “Just a minute,” said the saleswoman. “I’ve got a gift bag for you.”

She asked if I had an iPhone, and iPod, or a Zune. I do have an iPhone, a wonderful gadget that can tell me what drug stores are near my house, update my stock portfolio, track the weather in Botswana and do all sorts of other tricks. But it is a lousy phone, dropping calls as if it were an outfielder on the 1963 Mets.

What’s worse, because I am a cheapskate, I have the 3G version – which set me back $99, much more than I’ve ever spent for a phone. Since the more expensive 4G version drops even more calls than the 3G – and was given a dreaded “not recommended” tag by Consumer Reports – Steve Jobs has grudgingly offered a free case to all of the non-cheapskates who shelled out $199 or $299 for the 4G. This is supposed to cut down on dropped calls.

But the Apple empire has not extended the same largesse to its less free-spending customers. Lucky for me, Village Pharmacy II has stepped into the void. In exchange for my $1 donation, I was handed a green reusable grocery bag stuffed with goodies, including:

  • A nifty-looking red and black Belkin silicon sleeve for my iPhone [available online for prices ranging from $9.99 to $30.16, plus shipping];
  • A free half-hour [or half-off one hour] hot tub soak at The Oasis [worth $20 or $25, depending on which day you go];
  • A bottle of Absopure Spring Water, marked to commemorate the Sept. 4, 2010 re-dedication of Michigan Stadium;
  • Three sample packets of Topricin [a homeopathic “pain relief and healing cream”];
  • Two sticks of really awful-looking Gilliam Stick Candy [Cotton Candy and Strawberry flavors];
  • A package of “Decorated Stationary” marked at $2.99 [but probably not a great seller because it mismatches “15 Decorative letters” with “10 Coordinating Envelopes”];
  • Seven really bad greeting cards [“With Love Aunt and Uncle … Happy Anniversary!”] marked for sale at prices ranging from 50¢ to 75¢;
  • A Village Pharmacy II/Dexter Pharmacy blue rubber bottle opener.

Quite a haul – not counting the bag itself, also worth at least 99¢. By the time I came back to pick up my pain meds, I was shamed enough to overcome my inner cheapskate and drop all my small bills – about eight bucks worth, I think – into the Peace Neighborhood Center/Food Gatherers donation jar.

I’m still way ahead on this transaction – and I haven’t even been to The Oasis yet.

My teen-aged daughter has been bugging me for a while to shop at Village Pharmacy II, instead of the nearby chain stores. This argument, it is safe to say, is now over. Also, my stomach is feeling better.

About the author: Roger Kerson is a media consultant at RK Communications. He serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.


  1. By Micki Kaplan Stallard
    October 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm | permalink

    Viva for buying local. Great story by the author! Perhaps if he indulged himself in dexter cider mills fresh cider and donuts (another local gem) his tummy might start to feel better….

  2. October 27, 2010 at 7:32 pm | permalink

    I’m curious to know how you got home after taking the last northbound 12 bus on a Saturday.

  3. October 28, 2010 at 7:22 am | permalink

    You’ve sold me. Roger. I’ll start shopping at Village Pharmacy II today.

  4. October 28, 2010 at 8:55 am | permalink

    A worthy tale (in many other countries, pharmacies take turns staying open ALL night) and one very well told. However, this part scared me:
    “I need the stuff (oxycodone) for my stomach pain, which – for reasons the UM docs could not quite explain – has lingered past any sign of inflammation that can be detected by a CT scan or in my bloodstream.”

    Wouldn’t that be considered masking the symptom, i.e., the severe pain, thereby possibly also masking the cause of that pain, a cause which has not yet been ascertained? Check out Jerome Groopman’s “How Doctors Think.”

  5. By Paquetta A Palmer
    October 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    Thanks Roger, I am glad you chose this business. I have had the pleasure of working with Village Phamacy staff since 2001. They are competent professionals who truly care about the customers. I can refer customers to them with absolute confidence that they will be treated with dignity & respect. They are an asset to our community and an outstanding local business.

  6. By Roger
    October 29, 2010 at 10:02 am | permalink

    Anna, thanks for your concern. Rest assured the meds are a temporary measure to manage my discomfort; I’m seeing various docs and will probably require surgery for the underlying condition, which is called diverticulosis.

    Jim: Point well taken; public transit would not be a very efficient way to visit four pharmacies on a Saturday nite. AATA is soliciting ideas for improved service as part of a county-wide planning process; see here for more info: [link]

    Mick, I’m not sure donuts are my best bet at the moment. Cider sounds good, tho.

    Al and Paquetta: Welcome to the Village II fan club!


  7. By Lynn Lamkin
    November 16, 2010 at 2:50 am | permalink

    Just want to mention Stadium Pharmacy. Though not open at 6:00 pm on Saturday, Xavier the owner has gone out of the way for me including driving prescriptions to my house when I was too sick to go to the store to pick up. Stadium Pharmacy is in the strip mall with Baskin Robbins and Little Caesar’s pizza.