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Hiawatha Pharmacy Takes on the Challenge

Owner Atta Rehman is determined to take care of the people of Parsippany as he says the town has given much to him.

Starting one's own business, especially during trying economic times, is anything but easy. For many proprietors, risks are high, rewards seemingly few. Still, many men and women take on the challenge, and with persistence, some achieve longstanding success.

We were fortunate to get to know pharmacist Atta Rehman, owner of Hiawatha Pharmacy, when it opened its location within the Super Foodtown on North Beverwyck Road in Lake Hiawatha in late 2011. At that time, he was looking at new challenges with enthusiasm and hope.

Months later, we checked in with Rehman again when he instituded his Dispose My Meds program, a service to help residents safely rid themselves of expired and unwanted medications. He was still focused on building his business and moving it toward success.

So when we launched Spotlight on Parsippany, our weekly chat with the principal of a local business or organization, we knew we had to check in with the young pharmacist to see how things are faring now.

1.  How did the winter treat Hiawatha Pharmacy, and what's up for spring and summer?

Pharmacies usually get busier during the winter months.  Flu season is in full effect, there's the common cold and good old fashioned respiratory/sinus infections.  Hiawatha Pharmacy did see an increase in prescriptions this winter. The next few months is when pharmacies typically see a decrease in volume.  So, as a small business owner, the challenge will be to keep up the volume, re-invent myself and the business, add something to attract new business and continue to take care of current customers.  Hiawatha Pharmacy already has a $10 generic drug program and discount plans for uninsured customers.  I want to continue to build on that in the spring and summer.  I also will continue to offer the drug take back program called Dispose My Meds which has been amazingly successful.  Allergy season kicks in soon and people will be looking for relief of their allergy symptoms. When peak season hits, retailers tend to keep prices high because the demand is already there.  Hiawatha Pharmacy will be aggressively lowering prices on all over-the-counter allergy medicine beginning April 1.  The goal is to have the lowest prices in town for all allergy medications, including ones that require an ID and signature.

2. You've been doing this inside the Super Foodtown for going on two years now. How are you finding it? How has the economy treated you?

Moving into the Super Foodtown in November 2011 was a blessing.  The business was struggling, visibility was low, parking was limited to street parking on a busy section of North Beverwyck Road and people did not realize we were there!  Since the pharmacy relocated, business has been steadily improving.  There is better visibility, more foot traffic, better parking, a friendly atmosphere and an overall higher level of convenience for my customers.  The economy has negatively affected many individuals and businesses.  Daily expenses are rising while wages decrease or remain the same.  When individuals suffer, local businesses will suffer.  Sometimes customers have to decide whether to pay for their prescriptions or their utility bill.  For my business, my faith teaches me to make an effort for an honest living and things will fall into place.  So if one week, things look gloomy, I have faith that things can turn around the next week, as long as I do not lose focus on my everyday goals.  As for my customers, I try to work with them to help keep medications affordable—anyone without insurance is automatically enrolled in a free discount plan, which covers most medications.  Also, several customers have monthly charge accounts.  This helps them navigate through expenses and prioritize what they need to do before they pay for prescriptions each month.

3.  Hiawatha Pharmacy has been on the front lines in the battle to get people to dispose of their medications safely. How is that going, and what is the range of services you offer in this regard?

Dispose My Meds is a program offered to independent pharmacists through the National Community Pharmacists Association.  This program allows the pharmacy to take back unused and expired medications.  Flushing medication down the toilet, throwing medication down the sink and throwing pills in the trash are common practices.  All these may lead to contamination of our environment or water supply.  Also, drug abuse is not limited to narcotics.  It could manifest itself by a teenager experimenting with unused over-the-counter pain relievers stored in your bathroom cabinet.  Any unused medication has the potential for abuse. Proper disposal is just one way Hiawatha Pharmacy can reduce drug abuse in our community.  To participate, simply bring your unused or expired medications, prescription or non-prescription, to the pharmacy.  It is preferred to leave the label with the medication name on the container.  All personal information— name, address, prescription number—is removed or blacked out before the medication is put into a Take Back Program container.  Once the container is full, it is shipped to Sharps Compliance, a facility in Texas, where the medications are sorted and destroyed in a proper and environmentally safe way by licensed and trained professionals.  I also keep an ongoing tally on the amount and cost of what is being disposed of.  So far, the amount is well over $15,000 worth of medications and over 10,000 units (pills, capsules, etc.)!   

4.  Tell us about your most interesting customer interaction.

There are too many interesting moments to list.  That is the great thing about what I do.  Being an accessible health care professional right in the center of town does wonders!  I talk to so many people, hear so many stories, learn about so many lives.  I am in a wonderful town.  From the stories I hear about World War II and Vietnam from the citizens who served our country, to the horse stables on Route 46 and North Beverwyck Road which customers remember clearly; from everyone's physician being Dr. Simon to hearing about four independent pharmacies that once thrived on North Beverwyck Road—I've learned a lot.  One reason I opened my own pharmacy was to capture the essence of what pharmacy used to be.  With big chain pharmacies, the personal interaction of a pharmacist is becoming a dying breed.  I am here to change that.  

Let me tell you of an interesting thing that happened last week: I ordered lunch from a local restaurant.  One of my customers called me to ask if their prescription was ready.  I told her it was ready and asked if she was coming, to do me a favor and pick up my order on the way.  She agreed but insisted that I don't pay.  She wanted to pay for my lunch.  After going back and forth, I gave in and thanked her.  Ten minutes later, the restaurant owner calls me and says, "'Some guy' came in and asked if Atta order food.  I told him he did and that 'guy' paid for your lunch and and said to tell you 'Thanks for everything'."  That 'guy' was another one of my customers who I told some time back that I order from that restaurant often.  He took a chance and walked in to see if I ordered anything that day and coincidentally I did!  I called my other customer back and told her to pick up the food and believe it or not, it's already paid for!  This incident makes me believe that my pharmacy business goes beyond filling prescriptions.  It solidifies my belief that we are bigger and better as one community, unselfishly and genuinely caring about each other and doing good for one another in any capacity.

          
5. Why Parsippany?

Parsippany is home.  I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens and moved to Parsippany when I was in high school.  I lived in Parsippany for 16 years.  My parents still own a home here.  My first job was at AC Moore (currently where LA Fitness is located) in 1997.  I worked part-time as a delivery driver for Domino's Pizza in Parsippany while in pharmacy school.  My first pharmacy job was at Rite Aid in 1999 and my career as a pharmacist started with Drug Fair.  When I decided to open my own business, there was no doubt about Parsippany.  Having a personal connection to Parsippany and knowing the history of all the independent pharmacies that thrived and then disappeared, a challenge to resurrect that history was in front of me.  I have an opportunity to grow my business, in a tough economy with stern competition, by taking care of the residents of a town that gave me so much.  I have always been, still am and will always be ready for that challenge.   

Robyn M. March 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Ah ha! Love the allergy medication lowering thing! Would it be possible to post the prices of all the allergy meds on a flyer or something? I can't stand the behind-the-counter allergy med thing (although I understand it's the law), because I feel like I have to make a quick decision and I can't even see the prices. If you publish a list of allergy med prices and put it on your counter, I'll be your best customer. I promise. Also - do you accept manufacturer coupons?
Atta March 28, 2013 at 02:31 PM
I will have prices for most allergy medications posted on my pharmacy message board or at the counter when prices reduce on April 1st. Hopefully, this will help. Also, never feel like you "have to make a quick decision". Through conversation with your pharmacist, your choice for an allergy medication can be narrowed down to what will work best for you, helping you avoid unnecessary ingestion of other active ingredients. I know the laws and requirements for purchasing pseudoephedrine products can be bothersome, but placing those products behind the pharmacy counter presents an opportunity to talk with your pharmacist. Also, I do accept manufacturer coupons.
CONCETTA BARNISH March 28, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Atta has been my pharmacist for years, he is the best. he is a great person and very understanding and always has a smile on his face. God is good to have brought someone as nice as Atta to Parsippany. And also Atta is a very honest man and explains every thing that you need to know about your medicine.
Robyn M. March 28, 2013 at 05:50 PM
Thanks! I actually know what I want, but I compare the prices between brand name and generic, so I like to see the prices. It will be great if you do post a price list. I started buying online via drugstore.com, because it's easier to compare the prices. So, I'm thinking I will switch over to you.
Frank Drebin March 28, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Absolutely the Best !!
lorraine steinheimer March 28, 2013 at 09:31 PM
i am very pleased to say Atta is my pharmacist ,he has been for few years.so glad to have made my decision to patronize his pharmacy.he explains simply the use of ones perscriptions,and always considers the best price for his customers. Also he never gives you the feeling he's too busy to explain,he is such a pleasant man.Continued success to him and his important business. rarely is one completely satisfied in business dealings but in this case i am.
leela asokan April 03, 2013 at 08:31 PM
This interview was very honest. My dad used to tell me about the "honor system" back in the day that no longer exists. Atta proved me wrong! He said in the interview "Sometimes customers have to decide whether to pay for their prescriptions or their utility bill." Atta really has helped my family and me out tremendously. i can not thank him enough. I'm not shocked a customer bought him lunch, it's crossed my mind! He's like an oasis in a desert. I have no insurance, two babies and my husband has a small business where money is a lot at times or none. But we all still need our scripts filled and that always occurs when we need food, baby diapers, rents due, etc. I used to have to go to Walgreens, lug the babies in there, wait FOREVER and go through the same BS with the same pharm tech each time. After a while you'd think they know my name? Atta not only knows my name, but my whole family! Thank God bc he literally has my life in his hands. You should choose your pharmacist as you would your dr. Shoprite pharmacy gave me a potentially lethal dosage by mistake. the rite aid pharmacist gave me a potentially fatal consultation. So hearing from other people that Hiawatha Pharmacy is GREAT I was shocked its just one man. I thought it would be like any other pharmacy. He told me that he was concerned about 2 of my medications mixed that my dr prescribed. He always has time to chat, knows his stuff, and fills yer script right there or has it ready b4 u get there. great interview!
Atta April 04, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Wait, who are you again? J/K....Thank you so much for the nice words. Thanks for your continuous support and telling others about me. It makes me feel like I'm doing something right. :-)
Joe April 05, 2013 at 02:55 PM
I have been going to Hiawatha Pharmacy since it opened. I will always stay with this pharmacy! I will never go back to any big chain drug stores because saving a dollar at a typical chain pharmacy isnt worth the headache i get when i leave. I wish Atta was my landlord too. Just talking to him his therapeutic. He handles everything for you. I highly recommend Hiawatha Pharmacy to everyone!

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