A feel-good partnership: New drugstore to fill need in Williamstown

The Williamstown Apothecary in this storefront at 72 Spring St., is expected to open in late March or early April. The store is a collaboration between Berkshire Health Systems and Williams College.

Change comes rapidly and jarringly in health care, and government is often powerless to help people adjust. Sometimes it makes matters worse. Solutions can come, however, by groups working together in imaginative ways.

That's what happened in Williamstown where officials from Williams College and Berkshire Health Systems have teamed up to open a pharmacy on Spring Street within the next couple of months ("A feel-good partnership: Apothecary to fill void," Eagle, Jan. 18.). The plan came about to fill a specific need in town but it could also be a model that other communities might want to explore.

Williamstown lost its small Spring Street pharmacy pharmacy several years ago, a common occurrence as pharmaceutical chains have come to dominate the marketplace. This posed a serious problem for Williams students lacking transportation to get critically needed items from chain pharmacies nowhere near the campus, a dilemma was shared by faculty and staff as well as by town residents living in the vicinity. College officials and their BHS counterparts met the challenge with the creation of Williamstown Apothecary in a space at 72 Spring St. owned by Williams. It will open for business in March or April.

The apothecary will be an old-school, full-service pharmacy because it will only sell health-related products, unlike the chain pharmacies that double as convenience stores. It will be new-school as well, featuring an automated kiosk that can provide pre-ordered prescription drugs 24 hours a day, ideal for students cracking books at odd hours.

The chain pharmacies offer shopping convenience and many Berkshire residents are undoubtedly pleased with them. However, Matt Sheehy, associate vice president for finance and administration at Williams, told The Eagle's Scott Stafford that residents had expressed disappointment that they were without a pharmacy where they could get to know the staff and feel comfortable discussing specific needs with them. That is a valuable service that the dwindling number of locally owned Berkshire pharmacies can provide and that Williamstown Apothecary will ideally provide as well.

BHS will operate the pharmacy, as it does pharmacies at Berkshire Medical Center and at BMC's North Campus in North Adams. David MacHaffie, director of retail and specialty services at BHS, said similar pharmacies may be considered at other locations should Williamstown Apothecary be successful.

New challenges require new solutions — and not just in health care. This may entail abandoning traditional approaches in favor of groups or individuals acknowledging that they have common interests and working together to serve those interests and the interests of their constituents. Berkshire Health Systems and Williams College have done that with Williamstown Apothecary and it will be interesting to see in the months ahead if the anticipated demand is there, and if so, where else this concept will go.