Last independent pharmacy in Rhinelander closes
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Backe’s Apothecary, nestled inconspicuously next to the State Theater on Brown Street for 40 years, has closed its doors. Pharmacist Howard Backe turned 72 on his birthday last week, and said he thinks it’s time.
“We’ve taken very good care of our people for many years,” Backe said. “Some of the families I see – I’m on the third and fourth generations.”
Backe sold the business to Hometown Pharmacy, where all current prescriptions were transferred Monday night. Longtime employees Chris DeMeyer and Deb Zimbler will also be going to the new downtown Hometown Pharmacy, located at 34 S. Brown St.
Working in any profession for decades will cause anyone to reminisce, and Backe is no different.
“When I started there were no computers. I’ve seen them come from their infancy to practically making lunch for you,” he quipped.
During that same time period Backe also witnessed the growth of prescription insurance, which he said is “probably one of the worst things” that’s ever happened.
“Most people have no idea what their prescriptions cost anymore, and drug manufacturers have gone crazy with their prices,” Backe said. “And they get away with it. If the customer knew how much their drugs actually cost, they would think twice or refuse to do so and (manufacturers) would have to either lower their price or they’d go out of business.”
But all that aside, dealing with the people who have walked through the door for over 40 years has been his favorite part of the job.
“One of my professors – and I can still see him saying this – he said, ‘none of your customers want to buy your product’” Backe recalled. “None of them want to be sick, none of them want to take medication, with the exception of birth control pills,’ so I’ve made it my philosophy to make the experience as painless as possible, and hopefully let them leave with a smile on their face.”
Active with Downtown Rhinelander Inc. recently, and years ago, with the Rhinelander Jaycees, Backe has watched downtown Rhinelander change through the years, saying it has “grown considerably and matured” since he came to town and the only fast food was Hardees and there were no stoplights.
“When I came to town 44 years ago, there was still the Friday night shopping,” he noted. Shopping has change; pharmacies have changed. When I opened up here I was the fourth (pharmacy) downtown…and they thought I was out of my mind and that I would be out of business in three months.” But he outlasted them all, adding, “I’m just incredibly thankful to our customers.”
Backe isn’t moving south as many Northwoods retirees do; instead he plans to spend time visiting family across the country. Saying he had a taste of vacation for the first time a couple years ago, he also intends to spend more time traveling.