It’s been number one on virtually every local resident’s list of businesses we need downtown. What seemed like nothing more than a dream a few weeks ago is now set to become reality: Locally based, family operated, Caremax Home Health Care will open a pharmacy in the Phoenix Building at 418 S. Gay Street. Plans include an old-fashioned soda fountain and diner and an urgent care center.
While the pharmacy will be located on the first floor, the corporate offices for Caremax will move into second-floor offices, establishing a significant downtown presence for the company. Owner Ron Sherrill told me he’s excited to be downtown and had actually been looking in the area, but particularly downtown for several years. He feels that downtown is ready to support the business and the location is simply perfect. He noted the parking adjacent to the building in the Promenade Garage as a plus.
Mr. Sherrill is a pharmacist who has practiced in the Knoxville area for more than forty years and has operated his own company for most of that time. Caremax provides in-home health care support, including pharmaceutical care. One part of their business model is delivery of medications and he told me he sees that as a significant service for the downtown area. He hopes to meet the pharmacy needs of both downtown residents and workers, who could easily pick up a prescription and other items before their commute home.
He promises to have the latest equipment and staffing, but with “the comfort and feel of the kind of drug store/soda fountain that many of us remember from . . . childhood.” He told me in our telephone interview that he’d like to have the kind of place where a grandparent and grandchild could come to the store and each have an enjoyable experience.
Numerous details are still being worked out. According to Eddie Mannis, owner of the property, they are “still considering operating partners for our soda fountain concept, but anticipate it will feature familiar items such as made-to-order breakfast, burgers, sodas, shakes, malts, sandwiches and daily blue plate specials.” He added that this move represents more than a “million-dollar investment” in downtown.
The urgent care portion will also likely be managed by a partner who will share the same first-floor space. Mr. Mannis said, “We are currently having conversations with Knoxville-based Summit Medical in addition to two other healthcare providers and feel confident we will be able to reach an agreement.” The other businesses on the first floor of the Phoenix; Prestige Cleaners, Clayton Bank and Downtown Grind Coffee Shop will remain in their current spaces. Rutherford and Weinstein Law group will continue to occupy a portion of the second floor.
I asked Mr. Sherrill about a time-line and projected employment. He said they hope to have the offices moved in “within 90 days,” as that build-out will be less extensive. A lab will also be included in that space and the total number of employees on the second floor will be “around eight to ten.” He said they expect the pharmacy to open sometime this summer, likely to be staffed by “four to six inside employees, plus drivers and a full-time and a part-time pharmacist.” He indicated staff going forward would be dictated by response.
He expects to be open six days a week, but to be closed on Sundays, with hours likely to extend to 7:00 PM daily. He plans to bring in people who have experience in the various portions of the business, from the soda-fountain to the urgent care and operating a retail pharmacy. He told me the pharmacy will include items you might expect in a modern pharmacy, like cosmetics and a variety of other products.
I asked, “Why downtown and why now?” He said, “I’ve always wanted a throw-back pharmacy with modern services and techniques. Downtown needs services. I always wanted to be downtown and now there is a need. I think downtown is ready for it.”
I asked about flexibility in accepting a range of health-care plans, and he said acceptance of plans is up to proprietors and that he plans to accept a wide range of plans. “Cost of medication should not be an issue. We’ll have the same price or better than box stores.”
He looks forward to introducing the company to downtown residents and workers. He wants his employees to get to know the customers and form a relationship with them. He said, “I think this will be fun. I think it will be an asset to downtown. We want to be a part of the community.”
This feels like a significant step for downtown. Perhaps it is the beginning of making a truly walkable downtown experience a more complete one. Other business providing needed services may follow. It is critical, if we want downtown to be more than a fun place to visit that we support this venture and the others which are likely to come. Remember when I said 2015 was going to be a good year for the city? There you go.