Fairfield residents who need to have a prescription filled have no shortage of options thanks to the big-box pharmacies that include four CVS stores, a Walgreen’s, a Rite Aid and a pharmacy within one of the town’s two Stop & Shop supermarkets.
And then there is Naga Mulpuri’s Unity Pharmacy. At roughly 900 square feet, it is as far removed from big-box retailing as possible. Drivers speeding through the town’s Post Road business section could easily overlook it within its small commercial outlets.
“We’ve been here for five years and some people say, ‘Oh, I never knew you were here,’ ” said Mulpuri.
Born in India, Mulpuri has been a licensed pharmacist in her native country since 2007 and in the U.S. since 2012. She worked with a CVS pharmacy and later within an independently owned pharmacy — with the latter job being more appealing to her professional sensibility.
“When you work in a corporate, it is just so mechanical,” she said about her initial experiences. “Even if I wanted to give you two minutes, I just can’t. I loved the experience in New York with its personal touch. We could treat things the way you like it. With medicine, you want to know if you have a question, you can say, ‘Oh, I will call Naga.’ ”
Mulpuri is also a Fairfield resident, so she knew the playing field she faced when opening Unity Pharmacy in 2014. Despite its cozy size, Mulpuri’s pharmacy is never lacking in supplies.
“You will find everything you need,” she said. “It’s not like a huge supermarket where you wind up buying everything. And we are here to help.”
One of the proactive ways Mulpuri works to assist her customers is the creation of pill packs that separate multiple medications by dosage, day and hour. She maintains a prototype of the pack using multicolored M&M candies to show customers how the system works and fills new packs each month as needed.
Mulpuri also provides free delivery for customers within a specific range.
“We do deliveries every single day, including Saturday,” she added. “We cover Fairfield, Bridgeport, Westport and Stratford. We have a lot of elderly clients. This makes their life easier and with less stress.”
Many elderly residents had relied on Lupe’s Drug Store, a single-unit staple of Fairfield since 1954 that shut down last December.
“When Lupe closed, I had a lady call who was panicked,” Mulpuri stated. “She said, ‘Don’t tell me you are going to close up. I have nowhere to go.’ ”
Unity Pharmacy is a six-person operation and Mulpuri emphasizes a holistic approach to customer care.
“We train our technicians to treat people the way you’d want your mom to be treated,” she said. “If you wouldn’t do it to your mom, don’t do it to somebody else.”
But getting fair treatment from drug wholesalers and insurance companies is an ongoing concern for Mulpuri, who has to explain to customers why some medications come at very high prices.
“People say to me that their medication is $2,000,” she explained. “But the $2,000 is not coming to me. To fill a prescription, I have to buy it from a supplier for $2,000. And I bill insurance, but insurance says, ‘I’m going to pay you $5.’ There needs to be some change in the legislation to get the drug prices to go down. People have such huge deductibles now that they’re cutting down. They cannot afford to pay another $60 or so. But if someone has a heart problem, they would wind up in the hospital.”
Mulpuri does not operate on a 24/7 basis. Unity Pharmacy closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday and is not open on Sunday. Mulpuri said the shorter retail presence on weekends has never been an issue with customers.
“All of the doctors are gone on weekdays by five o’clock and on Saturday and Sunday you can’t find anybody unless you go to the emergency room,” she observed.
Unity Pharmacy is averaging between 300 and 400 customers a week with word of mouth as the primary source of referrals. She acknowledged another independently owned competitor, Black Rock Pharmacy, that opened in Fairfield earlier this year and she welcomed the possibility of more independent pharmacies setting up shop in the region.
“There should be more,” she said, noting that increased competition encourages her to sharpen her customer service. “If you have 10 pharmacies in Fairfield and you choose my pharmacy, it is only fair that I give you dynamite service. Otherwise, I don’t deserve to be here.”