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Fate uncertain for longtime Langley drugstore

Linds Langley Drug, a city fixture for 38 years, may close next year, a victim of the economy and changes in the health-insurance industry, owner Ron Lind said Thursday.

The city, already beset by other businesses in difficulty, is determined to convince Lind to stay, said Mayor Paul Samuelson.

Lind said a decision on the store’s future in Langley has not been made.

“We’re studying all the options,” Lind said. “We love Langley and think it’s a wonderful town.

“We need to see what happens through the holidays,” he continued. “This store is our mother ship.”

“I would encourage all of us to not to jump to any conclusions,” Samuelson said. “Everybody is concerned about everything. It’s a time for us to work together, and that’s what were doing with Ron.”

Lind owns three pharmacies, in Langley, Freeland and Coupeville. He said the Langley outlet has shown the lowest growth of the three. The Coupeville outlet, directly across from Whidbey General Hospital, has done the best, he said.

Closure of the Langley store would mean the nearest pharmacy to Langley residents would be at Ken’s Korner shopping center in Clinton. The next closest would be Linds Pharmacy in Freeland.

“Linds provides a vital service to our community, and it would be a travesty to have it completely close its doors,” said Sherry Mays, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce. “We need a pharmacy here. Period.”

“I hope the chamber and city can work together to convince the Lind family to keep at least a portion of its business here in town,” Mays said. “This is where they began and it’s a part of history we’re not ready to see go away.”

Meanwhile, Lind said a 4,000-square-foot expansion of the Freeland store in the PayLess Shopping Center is to begin soon and is expected to be completed in March.

The expansion will accommodate an enlarged inventory of gifts, home decor items and jewelry, with added office space and perhaps a larger prescription area, he said.

As for the Langley store, Lind’s strongest worries center around the dismal outlook for the economy, and the way prescriptions are handled by insurance companies.

“It’s definitely flattened out,” he said of the store’s revenue. “But we’re not the only ones. It’s tough all over, not just in Langley.”

He said his prescription departments are being squeezed by lower fees from insurance companies, and by those same companies offering huge incentives to use their mail-order houses.

Lind said he has tried to counter that trend by recently starting a program that offers a 90-day supply of certain generic drugs for $9.95 per prescription.

Lind said his other major concern is the future of the Langley Clinic next door. Dr. Stan Whittemore closed the clinic at the end of October.

Whidbey General Hospital purchased the clinic’s patients’ records and equipment, and is working with city officials to keep the clinic, which recently reopened, in place.

“There’s a lease,” Samuelson said. “The clinic is secure.”

He said a committee has been formed and is trying to find a doctor to take over the practice. Two physicians have been interviewed so far, he said.

“It’s not an easy task,” Samuelson said, “but we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Meanwhile, nurse practitioner Ann Lower is seeing patients Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’re very happy, and we’re very busy,” Lower said Thursday. “The patients who want a doctor are waiting, the ones who don’t mind a nurse practitioner are coming in.

“I know they’re recruiting for a doctor, but it takes time,” she said.

Linds Langley Drug was opened in 1970 on First Street, where Village Pizzeria is now. It later moved to its current location across the street. Lind and his wife, Pam, lived above the store for 20 years.

Remodeled “three or four times,” Linds contains a pharmacy and merchandise area on the ground floor, with a shop featuring cards and gifts above, Lind said.

He said he and his wife lived through the years in downtown Langley or nearby until moving to Holmes Harbor two years ago, ironically to be in a location central to all three outlets.

He said the Freeland store was opened about 14 years ago, and the Coupeville store was acquired about four years ago.

Lind said the Langley drugstore has eight to 10 employees on any given day, and that if it were to close, work for some or all of them might be found in the newly expanded Freeland store.

“We’d have to see how that all shakes out,” he said.

But he cautioned again that no decision has been made as to the fate of the Langley outlet.

“We need to see what happens through the holidays, with the doctor situation and the economy overall,” Lind said.

“Things are tightening up for everybody,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

“He’s a smart businessman,” Samuelson said. “But he’s been here a long time, and he loves the city. We’ll be working with him.”

Mays said the city is at a crossroads, and the Linds situation is but another indicator.

Noting that a couple of businesses in the city are closing and another is for sale, and that the restaurant business is down, Mays urged residents to shop locally.

“We can keep our dollars on South Whidbey,” she said. “Eat at our restaurants and enjoy our towns during this holiday season.

“It will take our community to keep our community economically viable,” she said. “It starts with our consumers believing in the place where they live.”

Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or rjacobson@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

Reporter Jeff VanDerford contributed to this story.

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