Hillside Pharmacy Accepts Walgreens Buyout

A recessionary casualty, the shuttering of a local institution marks the end of an era.

Hillside Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy that has served Manhattan Beach residents for 35 years under the ownership of Ron and Lyndall Otto, will close forever next week.

Citing "a wide spectrum of reasons," including personal motivations and industry changes, the Ottos chose to accept a buyout offer from Walgreens Pharmacy rather than renew the retail lease for Hillside's current location.

At the beginning of next month, Ron Otto will bring his client list—some of whom he has served for decades—with him to the Manhattan Beach Walgreens, where he will work as a pharmacist with some of Hillside's staff members.

The Ottos are hopeful that the personal touch they brought to their services will persist when they move to Walgreens. The couple said they sold to the retail giant because it seemed the most capable of providing their customers with the same kind of care and service the Ottos built a reputation on at Hillside.

Many of the Ottos' longtime supporters, who are often friends as much as they are customers, were saddened to hear of Hillside's closing. Mike Wyman, a five-year customer of the pharmacy, wrote a yelp.com review expressing his disappointment after receiving the letter the Ottos sent to their customers informing them of Hillside's imminent closing.

"Hillside Pharmacy was like walking into Gower Drugs out of It's a Wonderful Life," Wyman wrote in the review. Its closing "leaves the South Bay community with one less option when it comes to choice in where people can go to buy what they need and support local business," he said.

The "Gower Drugs" feel that Wyman attributed to Hillside is an accurate description: Upon entering the store, customers are greeted by Lily, the Ottos' standard black poodle, for whom the pharmacy is a second home. Lyndall Otto can be found chatting with one of the many customers. Behind the pharmacy counter, Ron Otto works side-by-side with his daughter, Lisa Johnson, who is also a pharmacist.

In an era of large-scale corporate pharmacy chains and mail-order pharmaceutical companies that operate exclusively online or over the phone, Hillside Pharmacy is a personal, independent store with small-town touches, where customers are often greeted by name.

"There were seven independent pharmacies when we moved to town in 1975," Lyndall said. "There are none now. In Manhattan Beach, we are it. So this will be the end of that."

There were many factors influencing the Otto's decision to sell: Ron's age, the couple's reluctance to sign a lease and commit to at least another five years of business, changes in the pharmaceutical industry, and recessionary challenges to small businesses. "Operating costs have increased to the point where it's become very difficult to be an independent business here in town," Lyndall said.

In addition, as cost-cutting health insurance rules have become more complicated to work with, Ron had begun to spend more time doing administration than actually working as a pharmacist.

"It's bittersweet; a lot of people are very sad, but they're happy for us," Lyndall said. "We do not feel taken over. We view this as a very positive step. We chose this.

"We wanted to make the best decision for people who've entrusted us with this part of their health care," she added. "This has been a great 35-year journey… but even really good things have to come to a logical conclusion.

Lisa Johnson April 22, 2011 at 11:12 PM


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