It’s too quiet at one of my favorite downtown stores right now

FEATURE — This past Monday, I had to run to Bulloch Drug in downtown Cedar City to pick up a couple prescriptions. As a mild hypochondriac, normally things like the coronavirus make me kind of panicky, but for some reason, I’ve been holding up OK – it probably has to do with having my wife and kids home with me. But still, I was a little trepidatious to be going to a public place as I hopped on my bike and pedaled downtown.

Sign in the back parking lot of Bulloch Drug offering curbside prescription pickup, Cedar City, Utah, March 25, 2020 | Photo by Paul Dail, St. George News / Cedar City News

Maybe it’s because people were still reeling a little from the news of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Iron County, but the sidewalks were empty, and traffic was thin to nonexistent as I circled around and went through the backdoor of what is locally referred to as simply “Bulloch’s.” The back is where the pharmacy is located, but it’s my usual way of getting into the building, even if we’re shopping in the other connected stores of Wood ‘N Lace, Comforts of Home and The Stork on Main.

It was business as usual at the pharmacy…well, mostly. As always, I was greeted with smiles as the pharmacists and techs worked in the cramped area behind the counter, and I was reminded how critical these employees are – and how they can’t necessarily practice social distancing.

I hope the best for them during this time. These are good people who have always treated me well. I don’t have to get prescriptions filled very often, but I’ve always been impressed by their staff – and Jana in particular, who greets me by name whenever I come in. That’s the definition of feeling valued in a small town.

I reached out to Evan Vickers, who is both the owner of Bulloch Drug and a state senator, to get an idea of how things were going, and he told me that beyond the smiles have been some challenges specific to the pharmacy customers. He said that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are being encouraged to get a stockpile of medication, with some insurance companies authorizing early refills and extending the amounts from 30 days up to 90 days.

“Yesterday, I was on the phone with the State Board of Pharmacy, and one recommendation is that we try to allow the vulnerable population, 60 and over, for maybe a 90-day supply,” he said, “but on the others, try to keep it as normal as possible.”

People trying to stockpile medications creates supply-and-demand concerns, and in addition to the State Board of Pharmacy, Vickers said he has been in touch with all the major suppliers.

“There’s adequate supply if we’re careful and prudent about it,” he said. “We just don’t want to run into a situation where we run out of everything just like we did with toilet paper and flour. … People don’t need to panic over this (medication) in any way. Just be prudent and keep things as normal as possible, and I think everybody will be fine.”

As far as other ways they are serving and protecting patients, Vickers said they have eliminated the need for signatures on prescription pickup and are offering more home delivery services in Cedar City and Parowan and curbside delivery at Bulloch’s, Township Pharmacy and the Richfield Community Pharmacy.

But outside of the pharmacy business, which I’ve heard would be considered “essential” if we go into a mandatory shelter-in-place situation, there are also those other connected businesses in the downtown complex. And on Monday, they were way too quiet for my liking.

The old jukebox was still playing in the front of the store by the soda fountain, where they still serve malts and ice cream and an assortment of candy by the scoop. But there were no customers to appreciate it. It was hauntingly quiet.

Inside Bulloch Drug, Cedar City, Utah, March 25, 2020 | Photo by Paul Dail, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The front end is another story,” Vickers said, adding that they may have to reduce employee hours as a result of slowing business, but in the immediate, they are keeping staff busy doing “projects that we’ve put off for a long time.”

But that can’t last forever. He said sales at the front-end stores have “dipped significantly.”

“We’re probably doing about a third – or maybe even a quarter – of what we were before the virus outbreak.”

This makes me said to hear. I have a lot of good memories in these stores. My kids love the Ty Beanie Boo stuffed animals, and Bulloch’s has the best selection in town. The drug store is also my go-to for greeting cards – especially when I’m scrambling last minute and other places are already picked over. And the soda fountain is where my stepdaughter got her first job, and my younger kids still love going there for ice cream.

Vickers said the soda fountain is still open, but they have removed the tables in an effort to comply with state regulations.

“People can certainly still come buy ice cream, but you can’t buy it and sit down like we used to, traditionally.”

Besides the soda fountain, the connected retail stores in the complex are also an important part of what it means to live in Cedar City. When I need a gift for someone I really care about and am looking for something beyond what can be picked up at a box store or online, I go to these stores first.

And for the past 15 years, our family has had a Christmas tradition of going to Comforts of Home so we can each pick out our own ornaments for our tree. Over the past few years, the kids follow this up by trying to locate the store’s Elf on the Shelf hidden in the home decor.

These are the memories that came back to me as I stood waiting for my prescription.

“We’re trying to keep everybody going strong, keeping safe and taking care of customers the best we can,” Vickers said. “We’ll survive. We’ll figure out a way to survive, but it may be painful.”

I agree. It already is – for some more than others. It’s hard to be facing the possibility of unemployment. And for those of us who want to help, it’s hard not to be out and about, especially on the few days when the sun breaks through and the wind stops blowing. Cedar is a close-knit community, and the downtown is an essential part of that.

These stores, like many others some of you could probably name, have been an important part of my time here. So I look forward to getting past this weird time we’re experiencing now and making more memories in this community that looks after their own.

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