ITHACA, N.Y.—The Green Street Pharmacy has been a mainstay in downtown Ithaca for years, a cozy spot with a pharmacy in the back, retail in the front and a combination ice cream, soda stand and coffee cafe included.

Owner and pharmacist Nicole Pagano announced the closing on Facebook Monday. The pharmacy, where she worked, will close immediately, while the retail front of the store will continue operating in the short-term as they attempt to sell off the rest of their inventory. Pagano said the location, at 131 East Green Street, will likely be entirely vacant starting in early 2021 until the building’s landlord finds another use for its space.

Pagano was emotional at times when talking about the store, which she owned and operated for a decade after coming to work there as a pharmacist in Jan. 2010, when it was known as Palmer Pharmacy. She said longstanding financial pressures were worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, which ended up delivering the death blow to the local business that she bought in 2011.

“The last few years we’ve just been trying to hold it off and hope for a miracle,” she said. “We started to do other things on the side to offset the money being lost in the pharmacy, such as selling the intercity bus tickets, promoting the soda fountain and things like that. Then with COVID, we had to shut down the soda fountain for a while, there have been (almost) no intercity buses since March, so we just hemorrhaged money.”

Financial forces in the healthcare field prominently contributed to Green Street Pharmacy’s struggles, Pagano said, particularly when certain prescription drugs wouldn’t be fully covered by insurance companies—usually leaving her at a significant financial loss. For some, that situation would lead a store to refuse to offer certain prescription drugs that would lose them money, but Pagano said she felt that was morally wrong. Yet it created pressures she was unable to overcome.

“But in the process, we lost so much money that we just couldn’t keep it going,” Pagano said. “When you’re losing $2,000 a day on prescription drugs, you got to sell a lot of ice cream to make up for that.”

Pagano, who lives in Painted Post, was emotional at times when talking about the closing of the pharmacy, particularly when considering the connections she has built with customers in and outside of the store. The daily, face-to-face interactions with people over the years had clearly built a bond between her and a large swath of customers, as evidenced by the outpouring of support she received on social media in reaction to her decision.

“What makes this pharmacy different than a lot of other pharmacies is I’m the the face you see every single day,” Pagano said. “It becomes very personal. I think that makes me a better healthcare provider because when it comes to making recommendations and stuff, I have a much bigger picture of your life and what might work for you. But it also becomes very personal for me. Yesterday I literally felt like part of me died. You don’t want to let it go.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com