To say pharmacology is Peter Caldwell’s passion is an understatement.
It is woven into the second-generation pharmacist’s life at just about every turn.
Both parents worked in pharmacology, as did two uncles. An aunt was a nurse.
The drawer of his parents’ prescription cabinet was his bassinet, and as a kid he took over his sister’s dollhouse to make his own pharmacy.
After 40 years at the helm of L.M. Caldwell Pharmacist in Santa Barbara, Caldwell, 72, and his wife, Kathryn, are retiring and closing their two locations at 1509 State St. and 235 W. Pueblo St. on Jan. 18 and 19, respectively.
Building personal relationships with patients and interacting closely with them have been cornerstones of the business, Caldwell said.
“We were doing all of these things years before the state board” mandated them “because that’s the way that we’ve viewed pharmacy practice,” he told Noozhawk.
Caldwell’s father, Mike, the pharmacy’s eponymous founder, opened shop in 1947, just up State Street from the present location. Ten years later, he built the current State Street building near the corner of Micheltorena Street across from Trinity Episcopal Church.
“This was the center of medicine in Santa Barbara in the ’40s and ’50s,” Caldwell said.
Scores of physicians had offices in the neighborhood, which was anchored by the old Santa Barbara Medical Clinic in the two-story Italianate building now occupied by the Reicker, Pfau, Pyle & McRoy law firm, at 1421 State St.
Another decade later, the elder Caldwell opened the Pueblo Street storefront next to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where the city’s doctors were migrating from downtown.
In 1977, the younger Caldwell took over the business, with Kathryn working as the pharmacy’s bookkeeper.
Some of the same patients have stuck with them over the intervening decades, and many are even second- and third-generation customers.
Like all trades, Caldwell said, the pharmacology industry has changed tremendously and undergone considerable consolidation.
“At one point in time, we had 35, 45 independent pharmacies in Santa Barbara,” he said. “Within a block of (the State Street) store, we had at least five pharmacies.”
Fast-forward to 2017, and L.M. Caldwell is one of the last locally owned, mom-and-pop pharmacies in the city.
The biggest changes, Caldwell explained, have been with manufacturers and insurance companies, the latter of whom, he said, are able to dictate a variety of health-care decisions to patients and health-care providers alike.
That outcome puts smaller providers at “a tremendous disadvantage,” Caldwell said.
Pharmacies are continuously inundated with new policies and regulations that are manageable but often burdensome, he added.
“They’re all probably reasonable things, but (the bureaucracy doesn’t) understand the practicality of being able to do those things,” he said.
For instance, in today’s digitally saturated age, pharmacies must still maintain hard-copy records of every prescription for 10 years.
Citing HIPAA privacy rules that prevent pharmacists from notifying each other about forged prescriptions, he noted that “it put a damper on our ability to do the things we want to do to protect the public and the providers.”
He also lamented the state of California’s decision to prohibit the sale of standardized prescription pads to physicians. Now, he said, he sees prescription pads in a variety of shapes and with different security features.
“We’re not cops,” Caldwell said. “We’re not supposed to be having to check the validity of every person who comes through the door, but we’re having to do that sort of thing.”
With the closures, Caldwell’s prescription records and inventory will be transferred to CVS. State Street customers’ prescriptions will now be filled at the CVS at 222 W. Carrillo St., and Pueblo Street customers’ prescriptions will be filled at the CVS at 2973 State St. on the corner of West Calle Laureles.
In a letter to customers and colleagues, Caldwell said many of his longest-tenured staff will be working at those stores after Jan. 18 and 19.
Over the decades, Caldwell said his pharmacy has maintained one of the original core goals of his father that he said many big-name pharmacies lack: that the first sight a customer has walking in is not shelves of miscellaneous products, but the person who takes care of their medications.
That, he said, will be one of the things he’ll miss the most.