TORRINGTON — Every day of the week, Petricone’s Pharmacy bustles with customers, ringing phones and staff filling prescriptions behind the counter.
To the left, a black and white photograph of the founder, Fiore Petricone, keeps watch over all that activity, day in and day out. Drivers are in and out the door with prescriptions for customers, traveling in a custom van with the business logo. And Petricone’s remains on East Main Street, where it first opened 90 years ago.
Joe Petricone, the third-generation owner, oversees the store’s pharmaceutical practice, as well as its medical supply business, which was added in the 1980s when stores such as Petricone’s needed a boost. Other pharmacy giants, along with a growing number of mail-order companies, left small pharmacies unable to keep up with the competition. One by one, those smaller entities closed. But Petricone’s is thriving, and a second family-owned pharmacy is opening in March in New Hartford.
“Maureen Zeiner, who has been a pharmacist with us for more than 30 years, will manage the New Hartford store,” Petricone said. “It’s opening at 4 Bridge St. in March. We’re renting a space that used to be a hardware store. It was recently renovated and we saw an opportunity.
“It’s a much smaller version that this one in Torrington,” he said. “There’s not as much medical supply, but it will have a full pharmacy and front-end retail area.”
Petricone said the plan to open a second location has been a dream for years. “I found paperwork on a new pharmacy that we were talking about six years ago,” he said. “First Selectman Dan Jerram in New Hartford and (resident) John Burdick approached me, after their only pharmacy closed. It’s all about timing ... this is the right time.”
Joe Petricone grew up around the pharmacy, watching his grandfather and father work.
“My grandfather Fiore Petricone opened in 1930 in this same space, but a lot smaller,” he said, while standing near the pharmacy counter. “My grandma Edith owned the building. Eventually it was expanded to the whole lower level, but in the beginning it was just one small room.”
Health and beauty aids and a selection of greeting cards are on display, along with cough syrup, aspirin and cold medicine. The top shelves of the small store show memorabilia from the old days, including vintage glass prescription bottles, framed certifications and old pharmacist’s tools.
“My grandfather was here for the flood of ‘55, and there’s a notch on the wall here,” he said, indicating the mark about 4 feet from the floor in the doorway of his office. “That’s how high the water was. (Fiore Petricone) worked out of St. Peter’s Hall until the pharmacy was ready to reopen again.”
Fiore died in 1975. Joe’s father, Joe Petricone Sr., was already a pharmacist, running the place with his dad, by 1968.
“He was a pharmacist in the U.S. Army and when he came back, he started working here,” Petricone said. “My mom Anne was with him. We grew up on Cardinal Circle in Torrington, and my brother John and I went to St. Peter School.
“I washed floors, replaced the greeting cards, swept the sidewalks ... I did whatever my dad needed, after school,” Petricone said. “As I got older, my dad would ask me to help out. I drove the delivery van, or stocked shelves.”
When his father died in 1972, Petricone was already part of the business. After earning a degree in biology from Stonehill College, Joe Petricone Jr. attended Northeastern University in Boston and earned his pharmacy degree.
“Taking over wasn’t sudden — I was doing a lot already, learning the ropes,” Petricone said. “I worked in the pharmacy from 1994 to 2015. After that I had to separate myself from ‘the bench’ where we fill the medications, to being the administrator. I went back and forth, but we have a very experienced team here. I was able to run the business from the administrative end.”
He lives in New Hartford now with his family, including his wife Deirdre, daughter Cecilia, 21, a political science major at Boston College, and son Daniel, who attends Gulf Coast University and studies marketing.
“In 20 years, I hope to be retired,” Petricone said with a smile. “This business can really burn you out.”
Growth and change
Petricone’s medical supply business has steadily grown since it was added in the 1980s. The store stocks a full line of diabetic supplies: stockings, shoes and testing equipment, as well as walkers, commodes, chairs and hospital beds.
“Back then, my dad wanted to diversify,” Petricone said. “He said, ‘You can’t focus on just one thing.’ We work with group homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes, providing the equipment they need.”
Petricone’s also now provides medications in “bubble packs” for patients, following a national trend intended to help people remember to take them, as well as eliminating plastic bottles.
“They’re color coded, and it makes life a lot easier for people,” Petricone said. “Sometimes we have to redo them, if a prescription is changed after they’re done, but it makes a big difference for many of our customers to have them done this way.”
Another 90 years?
Petricone’s has survived the world of dispensing prescription medications for a number of reasons.
“The corporate pharmacy models are tough to live up to, and we have to make money to survive,” Petricone said. “Sometimes, especially with insurance, situations are out of our control, but we try to work with people when it comes to the cost of the drugs they’re taking, for whatever reason.
“There’s no room for mistakes,” he said. “But we all make them, and we do our best to correct them quickly and work with the customer and the insurance companies to make it right. Insurance fees are tough, too. Sometimes people are billed for fees for a prescription, months after it’s been filled, and the customer has to pay for it. They don’t always understand why things like that happen. That’s just the way it is.”
The pharmacy has also faced the opioid addiction crisis with the same approach: they try to help. Petricone serves on the board of the McCall Foundation, which provides behavioral health and addiction services to the greater Torrington community. The crisis, Petricone said, is a national problem.
“I’ve attended and helped with awareness events, and we are allowed to dispense Narcan (a drug used to revive a person who has overdosed on opioids, including oxycodone, fentanyl and heroin). It’s an issue. When opioids were first prescribed, pharmacies were told one thing about how they can impact people, and it took a little while to figure out what was happening (with the opioid crisis). We do our best to counsel people about pain medication, and show them that things like Tylenol and ibuprophen can really help if taken correctly, to manage pain. It’s affected everyone, everywhere.
“If a person is having a problem, we try to have a conversation with them about it and get them help,” Petricone said.
The most important reason for the pharmacy’s success, Petricone said, is based on his father’s advice.
“My father used to say, ‘Joe, we don’t have customers, we have friends.’ That’s the way we try to look at every person who comes through that door. If you look at them in that way, it changes the way you see people. We try to treat people like friends.”
To reach Petricone’s, call 860-489-5511 or visit petriconespharmacy.com