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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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A family-owned Pleasanton institution closes

Uploaded: Oct 5, 2017
A Pleasanton institution closed last week when pharmacist Mike Clauser closed Custom Care Pharmacy on First Street.
Mike and his partner, Rusty Hewitson, had owned and operated the pharmacy for more than 40 years—Mike was involved for 39 years. They were familiar faces behind the pharmacy bench to thousands of Pleasanton residents for more than four decades. And they are both grew up here.
They saw lots of those people in their final two weeks of business as customers called in to have prescriptions filled and then came to pick them up. It was quite unusual for a business that was closing to have customers pouring in.
“We had a line out of the door. It looked like we were giving away free ice cream instead of going out of business,” Mike said.
The store history dates to the Jorgensen family which owned a pharmacy on Main Street that was then moved to the First Street location when parking became too challenging downtown—we’re talking parking challenges more than 40 years ago.
For Mike, Saturday’s closing marks the start of a time of well-deserved retirement, free from the challenges of operating a business that was open six days every week.
They will be missed because their employees knew their customers and greeted them by name. They went the extra mile in service.
What’s wonderful in the transition is that CVS, at its newest store at Bernal Ave. and Stanley Boulevard, will take over the customer lists for both the Pleasanton and San Ramon stores as well as most of the employees who are going to continue working. Long-time pharmacist Bob Mayes and tech Kathy Anderson will join Mike in retirement. Rusty sold his interest in the business to Mike five years ago, but kept showing up for work until he relocated to San Diego a year ago.
The partnership had interesting roots. Mike worked for Rusty’s father, Louis Hewitson, at his liquor store throughout his years at Amador Valley High School. Rusty, who was a few years older, already had finished pharmacy school and was serving in the Navy. When Rusty wrapped up his service, he bought into Alisal Pharmacy on First Street.
Mike joined him there in 1979. Over the years, their children, as well as Mike’s wife, MaryKay, were familiar faces behind the counter. Service was a consistent key to the family-owned business, which delivered prescriptions to folks who couldn’t get to the pharmacy.
Rusty’s son, Louis, worked for them for more than 20 years, mostly as a pharmacy tech. Mike’s son Danny, now an engineer, did almost everything during his high school years, John, managed the Pleasanton store for two years before turning it over to Joe Cardinale, whose grandfather, Joe Antonini was one of Pleasanton’s long-time independent insurance agents back when the population was a few thousand.
During the years, Mike and Rusty had to adjust to significant changes in the medical insurance situation. After years as an independent, they had to become a franchise of Medicine Shoppe because insurers were signing contracts with chain retailers and freezing out the independents. They had a 20-year marriage with Medicine Shoppe, at the original Pleasanton location and the San Ramon store, before the government recognized the folly of its regulatory ways and changed the rules.
That changed allowed them to rename their business Custom Care, based upon their long-time practice of mixing custom prescriptions. When they started in the business, that was common, but it faded over the years leaving Custom Care a nice niche. It got even better when the government imposed strict new equipment requirements on pharmacies that compound. Those involved a major investment that Mike and Rusty made at the San Ramon store. Any compounds were mixed there and will continue to be. The retail store closed, but the compounding operation will continue with a younger pharmacist.
When we were in a different insurance program, Custom Care was our pharmacy of choice. I remember the extra mile that Bob Mays went when my father-in-law was in the care of Hope Hospice. We had a care crisis and I called a few minutes before closing time to ask for a med. Bob filled that prescription and admitted me after hours to pick it up.
Imagine that happening with a chain store.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Wishing for the good old days, a resident of another community,
on Oct 5, 2017 at 11:14 am

Just can't help it, your line about that happening with a chain store left me thinking that progress is not always a wonderful thing. Customer service seems like a thing of the past more and more these days, and you can't get a clerk to look up from their phone long enough to help you. Guess I'm getting old, but I remember a time when I felt like my business at retailers was valued and appreciate a lot more than it is today.

Posted by Howard Cunningham, a resident of Danville,
on Oct 5, 2017 at 5:08 pm

It use to be that high school kids sought and valued entry level retail or fast food jobs, and learned the value of a dollar, hard work, and customer service, before going off to college. Now, it is common for college grads to never have had any type of job before entering the work force as a graduate. It is also ironic that as the minimum wage has drastically gone up over the years in CA, there are less and less high school kids willing to work. We are creating a generation of entitlement people, with no customer service skills. It is sad how often I find myself saying, "thank you" to a clerk at Safeway or CWS or a fast food restaurant, who never said thank you to me, the customer, and often never even made eye contact.

Posted by Old -Time P-towner, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Oct 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm

This is very sad that Custom Care closed. On that note, in reading Tim's well-written article and seeing customer files xfrd to CVS, hubby and I went to the new Bernal Avenue locale for flu shots thinking perhaps less customers, less wait, etc. Well, that was a MISTAKE, we thought WRONG. Not only were we very patient in waiting for new pharmacy clerk learning the register, but after 15-20 minutes standing there patiently while she took our info, insurance, etc., only to be told their store is not yet setup with Medicare to process and cost would be $66! FORGET that!!
Supposedly, each CVS store has to apply individually to Medicare to process claims. This seems ridiculous if true. Seems like a big company as CVS should have it all okayed via corporate and approval should apply for ALL CVS stores.

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