Ridhwan “Ray” Albaneh says he’ll never forget the moment he decided to open his own pharmacy. He was still in school, studying pharmacology at the University of Toledo and working at a corporate pharmacy, when the company’s ­CEO visited the store where he worked.

As Albaneh recalls it, the CEO told the employees that the first fatality of flu season had just been announced—and that the death was “great news” because it would boost sales of flu shots. “I just threw my coat [down] and walked out,” says Albaneh. After graduating and working at a number of independent and local pharmacies, he opened Packard Discount Pharmacy in October.

He found the small storefront east of Platt after two months of going door to door: he just walked into Golam Produce Market and asked if they were leasing. Owner Golam Khan was retiring, and they were.

Some observers, though, wondered if Albaneh knew what he was getting into. Ann Arbor’s last two independent pharmacies, the Village Pharmacy II in Maple Village and the Village Apothecary on South University, both closed in 2015 under pressure from national chains. And while the chain minimarts sell everything from food to electronics, his store is basically just a pharmacy with some over-the-counter medications, vitamins, hygiene products, and a few snacks. But Albaneh has a mentor and a plan.

The mentor is his brother Abe, an ­already-established independent pharmacist who owns nine pharmacies in southeastern Michigan and helped him get started. The plan is to give better service than the chains, while still offering competitive prices.

Though it can’t match the chains’ long hours, Packard Discount offers free home delivery by Albaneh and three technicians. He says he has even delivered prescriptions to Belleville on his way home to Dearborn.

Albaneh also offers cash prices for prescriptions that he can sell for less than his customers’ insurance co-payments—something he says would have gotten him in trouble at his corporate job. “When you walk into a corporate pharmacy, you’re a number,” he says. “When you walk into an independent pharmacy, you are a patient to us. You’re my patient … I actually sit down and take time and talk to the patients.”

Albaneh says he’s able to keep his costs down by working through purchasing networks like Health Mart and the Arab American Pharmacist Association, which negotiate with multiple vendors. He says the chains are so focused on their dealings with insurers that they often raise retail prices in order to justify the rates they charge the insurance companies; small pharmacists don’t face the same level of scrutiny.

Albaneh says he’s been averaging at least two new patients a day in his first few months in business, and he is continuing to visit retirement communities, doctor’s offices, and urgent care clinics to share information about his pharmacy. “Just give them a chance to walk through my door,” he says. “I promise you they’ll be back.”

Packard Discount Pharmacy, 3152 Packard Rd., 929–5504. Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Closed Sun.

Calls and letters, March 2017

We heard from readers via email, phone, and Facebook about an error in our February Marketplace Changes column: our statement that Ann Arbor’s “last two independent pharmacies closed in 2015.”

Two longstanding, full-service pharmacies, Village Apothecary and the Village Pharmacy II, did indeed close that year–but two newer “compounding” pharmacies that specialize in preparing custom medications survive: Pharmacy Solutions at 5204 Jackson Rd., and Clark Professional Pharmacy at 3280 Washtenaw.