WEST VILLAGE — Avignone Chemists has lost its pharmacy — but the store will remain open, the owner said.
The pharmacist at the historic 281 Sixth Ave. shop recently sold his portion of the business to CVS, which means customers will no longer be able to pick up prescriptions at Avignone Chemists. But the store will continue selling beauty products, household supplies and other sundries just as it has for decades.
"We're still here — we're not going anyplace," said Abe Lerner, 61, Avignone's owner. "We are staying."
All of the Avignone pharmacy's patient files have been transferred to the CVS a few blocks away at Washington Place and Sixth Avenue, and pharmacist Andrew Fruchtman has moved over to the CVS as well, where he will remain until the end of the month to ease the transition.
Fruchtman had been the pharmacist at Avignone for the past six years, and since the Dec. 30 sale he has been calling his hundreds of surprised patients to "thank them for their years and...explain what happened."
"We couldn't say anything before the sale," said Fruchtman, 61, who lives in Westchester.
The trouble, Fruchtman said, was that insurance companies have been pushing their patients to order prescriptions by mail, offering discounts and the ability to receive a three-month supply at once — which makes it harder for local pharmacies unaffiliated with insurance companies to compete.
"It's impossible to stay in business, as much as we want to," Fruchtman said. "As much as it wasn't a move we wanted to do, we really have no choice in the economic environment."
Some of Avignone's longtime customers were alarmed by the change, though they said they were glad that Avignone Chemists wasn't shutting down altogether.
"It's terrible," said Maggie Wells, 72, who has been coming to Avignone for 35 years, since she first moved to New York, and did not want to go to CVS instead. "It's like going into a futuristic nightmare."
Lerner said some of his customers have told him they're going to get their prescriptions from Bigelow & Co., farther up Sixth Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets, just to avoid the chain store.
"Even though it's farther away," Lerner said, "people in this neighborhood don't like chains."
Fruchtman, who is looking for a new pharmacist job, said he had been concerned about his former patients adjusting to CVS, but so far he's been impressed by the larger pharmacy.
"They're very nice here," Fruchtman said Tuesday, gesturing to the three young women working with him behind the CVS pharmacy counter. One of them was regularly greeting elderly customers by name. "I'm very pleased that at least my patients seem to be in good hands," he said.