Changes are coming to a Main Street favorite and one of downtown Nantucket’s most iconic locations.
Nantucket Pharmacy, which has been locally owned and serving the community since 1937, is at a crossroads. Owner and pharmacist Allan Bell, along with his longtime partners Ken Knutti, RPh, Jill Audycki, RPh, and Joanne Skokan, are all in their 60s and 70s and looking forward to their next chapters in life.
“At some point, you know, we’re done,” said Bell, sitting in the small, cramped office behind the pharmacy last week as the summer crowds flowed in and out of the Main Street location. “I’d like us to not be here next Memorial Day. I don’t think we could do another summer. We can, but I don’t think we want to. I think, mentally, we’ve all sort of slowed it down. It’s time.”
Nantucket Pharmacy, with its throwback soda fountain and gift store, is a cornerstone of Main Street. It’s a place where generations have gathered and islanders have forged trusted relationships with the friendly and knowledgeable pharmacy team. So what happens next?
Bell isn’t exactly sure, and for now, several scenarios are on the table. Ideally, Bell and his team hope to attract a new, younger pharmacist who could come take over the operation from them and keep the business running largely as it has been for decades. But they’re not optimistic that such a person will materialize.
They could end up closing down the pharmacy but continue to run the soda fountain and maintain a gift shop. Or the building and the business could be sold entirely - to the right person.
“This is an antique,” Bell said of the pharmacy he’s owned since 1977. “It can possibly still be run as a pharmacy, but I don’t think most people would want to do that. That model moved on 30 years ago.”
Now in his 44th year as a pharmacist at the location, Knutti is well aware of the challenges Nantucket Pharmacy faces. It’s not only the difficulties all Nantucket businesses face in staffing and housing but the shrinking - and in some cases negative- margins a mom-and-pop pharmacy has to grapple with. It’s why most small, independent pharmacies have been absorbed or replaced by chains across the country.
“I would like it to stay as it is if we can find the right person, but it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” Knutti said, noting the long hours he’s been logging. “I’m here six days per week. We’re working 75 to 80 or even 90 hours per week. We’re 66 (years old), and we’re hustling.”
Despite those long hours, Knutti said he has no regrets about his four-plus decades at Nantucket Pharmacy. He only hopes the right person is out there who could allow it to continue as the downtown business people have come to know and love.
“It’s a great, great job, but people need to realize they’ve got to put the time in,” Knutti said. “They’ve got to be younger and have more health than what we have. It will be my 44th year coming up. That’s a long time for one job. But the worst thing about leaving here is that you’ve made so many friends, and then you think, how are they going to feel about you leaving? People tell us every day ‘Don’t leave’!”
Nantucket Pharmacy currently leases the soda fountain operation to Patrick Ridge’s Island Kitchen, and Bell said there’s one more year left on that agreement. It’s unclear if they will continue running the fountain beyond that period.
Should the pharmacy portion of the business close down, it would leave Nantucket with just two remaining pharmacies: Dan’s Pharmacy on Pleasant Street and the Cottage Pharmacy run by Nantucket Cottage Hospital on Vesper Lane.
These are all factors that Bell is considering. But one thing that’s off the table? A chain like CVS coming to the Main Street location.
“No, no, no, no, definitely not that,” Bell said emphatically. “We can’t do that. I would never do that on Main Street. I’d rather close down than do that.”
Joanne Skokan, who has been part of Nantucket Pharmacy for two decades and worked at the former Congdon’s Pharmacy next door before that, recognizes that the time has come for her team to move on, but it still makes her sad to think it could mean the pharmacy comes to an end. She and the pharmacists provide what is essentially a concierge pharmacy experience to locals and summer residents alike, creating a level of service and a unique destination that will be almost impossible to replicate.
“It’s going to be heartbreaking. But I just don’t see it,” Skokan said. “I don’t know. I don’t want it to become a jewelry store or real estate office. But we don’t have much left in the engine to keep going.”
Like Bell and Knutti, Skokan says she is doubtful the right pharmacist candidate capable of taking the business over is going to step up, but is hopeful it could remain as a store with the soda fountain.
Regardless of where it ends up over the next year, the team that has been at the helm of Nantucket Pharmacy for decades will have their memories of sustaining a throwback business in a modern era, the relationships they forged with the community, and the enjoyment of working on Main Street.
“I like to be with people,” Skokan said. “ And I really love my job.”