As a little girl, Mary Kirkland loved playing store. The drugstore her great-grandfather bought 101 years ago became Hilton Pharmacy & Gifts, a Marysville institution.
She remembers helping out — cleaning counters and washing glasses — at a Marysville tavern and sporting goods store her grandfather, Frank Hilton, had on State Avenue. In 1984, she bought Hilton Pharmacy, a fixture on the southeast corner of State and Third Street, and has run it ever since.
“Oh my goodness, I’m still playing store,” she said Monday. But her store at 220 State Ave. is closed and empty.
The 69-year-old Kirkland isn’t headed for retirement, not just yet. She was there working away Monday as she prepares to renovate and transform the 4,000-square foot space into a gift and specialty shop. A sign in the window and a banner on Facebook tell the next chapter: “Thank you Marysville! See you this fall when we re-open as Hilton & Company.”
Kirkland has sold the pharmacy portion of her business to Rite Aid. The last day to fill prescriptions at Hilton Pharmacy was Aug. 4, she wrote in a July 22 letter to customers. On Aug. 5, prescription records were transferred electronically to the Rite Aid across the street at 251 Marysville Mall. Those records will be accessible at other Rite Aid pharmacies, Kirkland said.
A 1973 graduate of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy, Kirkland said the sale to Rite Aid will eventually help with her retirement income. “It was just time,” she said, explaining how her age and challenges in the pharmacy business played into her decision to let go of that piece of her store.
She is critical of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), powerful and profitable entities that negotiate payment rates for a large share of prescription drugs distributed in the United States. Kirkland likens their fees to credit card processing companies charging businesses for each transaction.
Pharmacy benefit managers, according to the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association trade group, administer prescription drug plans for millions of Americans with commercial health plans, union plans, Medicare Part D and managed Medicaid plans, and others. The trade group, on its website, says pharmacy benefit managers cut costs in a number of ways, among them encouraging the use of generics, negotiating rebates from drug manufacturers, and managing high-cost medications.
In Kirkland’s view, the complex process has “nickeled and dimed us to death.”
“The pharmacy industry is so complex, even the government and pharmacists don’t understand it,” she said. “Reimbursements are not enough.” It hadn’t been her hope to sell to a large corporation rather than an independent pharmacist, but Kirkland said Rite Aid was “very fair.” The Rite Aid Corporation operates about 2,500 stores in 19 states.
Leaving pharmacy behind, she’s excited to build on what was already a store that featured an eclectic mix of merchandise — baby gifts, classic toys, women’s wardrobe pieces and accessories, home goods, wellness items and seasonal decor.
“Pharmacy” will be gone from the store’s name, but “Hilton” lives on. Kirkland said Hilton & Company seemed just right for the corner store that has become a Marysville landmark.
She’s the sole owner, but said the name is a nod to the store’s past and “the company we keep.” In her letter to customers, Kirkland wrote that it’s been “a true honor” to have carried on the legacy of previous owners, including her great-uncle, Jeffrey Hilton Jr., and mentor Clyde Lashua.
Kirkland infused a Facebook announcement with a bit of fun. “We’re quitting drugs,” she wrote in a post that showed a graphic of the Rx symbol with a red line through it. In online comments, customers welcomed the change. “So glad you are keeping the store. Hiltons is a shining jewel in our community,” one Facebook commenter said.
With the streetscape along Third recently updated, Kirkland sees “a little vibe kind of starting” in the area that includes newer businesses, such as 5 Rights Brewing Company, as well as Oosterwyk’s Dutch Bakery and other longtime destinations.
“I’m so happy I’m still going to have a store,” she said. “I want the joy of gathering, being a hostess.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.