Landmark pharmacy closes

2013-05-31 00:00

FIELDS Pharmacy, the oldest individually owned pharmacy in Pietermaritzburg, closes its doors for the last time this afternoon.

It follows the closure of another old Pietermaritzburg pharmacy, Mayor’s Walk Pharmacy, earlier this year.

After 64 years in the city, a changed Pietermaritzburg and a changed South Africa have left the business unable to compete, says present owner of Fields Pharmacy Terry Higginson.

Ironically, the landmark wood-panelled building’s position at 223 Boshoff Street has been part of the problem, he says, as a lack of parking and drastically increased traffic in Boshoff Street have seen customers choosing other pharmacies that offer easier access.

“This street is now frequently gridlocked,” says Higginson, whose father, former Durban city councillor Jimmy Higginson, is the man after whom the Higginson Highway is named.

He says changes to the law have allowed big corporates to place chain-store pharmacies in their outlets and been the death knell for small, privately owned pharmacies.

“These big corporate pharmacies have negotiated designated service provider agreements with the medical aid schemes,” he says, “and as wholesalers they also benefit from wholesale fees.”

This gives them a competitive advantage that privately owned pharmacies like Fields Pharmacy can’t compete with, says Higginson.

“The government’s increases to the SEP [single exit price, which regulates medicine prices] have been well below inflation over the past 10 years and in real terms, medicine has gone down in price while our profits have been strictly regulated.”

The closure will leave something of a vacuum in the city: Higginson says he is one of only two pharmacies — Baxters Pharmacy is the other — that rent out and sell surgical equipment and first-aid supplies.

“Our loyal customers have been devastated as are we,” says Higginson. The pharmacy has received flowers, cards and cakes from customers, some of whom have been customers for over 40 years.

“It was quite moving … I didn’t realize these relationships went so deep,” Higginson says.

Fields Pharmacy was opened in 1949 by Fred Field. It was taken over by brothers Gert and Piet Lindeque in the 1990s, and Higginson bought the business from them in 2000.

Until today, Fields Pharmacy employed six people.

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