Why we love "guv'mint"

Here’s a complete page-one story from the local weekly, The Deposit Courier:

NYS Inspector Forces Name Change for Browns Pharmacy

To satisfy state inspectors and state regulations, Brown’s Pharmacy has a new sign.

Pharmacist Jeff Hempstead said the pharmacy with its adjoining gift shop was reconfigured in 1988.  At that time the inspectors approved of the new store design and signed off on the project.

Every year inspectors have given the pharmacy high marks and there has been no indication of any infractions.

During the most recent inspection, this year’s inspector said because the entrance does not lead directly into the pharmacy the signage had to be changed.  The old Brown’s Pharmacy sign had to come down because it was technically over the gift shop side (now an Irish Peddler) and a new sign indicating that the pharmacy is a “Department Within” had to be added under the Pharmacy sign over the pharmacy’s windows.

“We want to reassure the community that nothing is changing with the pharmacy except the sign,” Hempstead explained.  “The inspectors are not always the same and this guy cited us because of the entrance.  I’ve added the little white ‘Department Within’ sign to satisfy the inspector.”

Hempstead said he has always registered it as a “pharmacy.”  Now, he has to re-register as a “pharmacy department.”  He said he plans to contest the ruling and he plans to re-hang the familiar “Brown’s Pharmacy” sign that has identified the pharmacy since 1847.  It will probably have a new home on the pharmacy side of the building but at least it will remain a familiar Front Street landmark.

My comment:  “… since 1847”!

But wait!  Did the inspector have a point?

Thanks to WW (Wonders of the Web), I was able to discover NY state law #63.6 (b)(5):

“A pharmacy operated as a department of a general merchandising establishment shall be enclosed permanently by a partition at least nine feet six inches in height, except where the ceiling is less than nine feet six inches in height in which case the partition shall be from floor to ceiling. Identification of such department by use of words "drugs," "medicines," "drug store" or "pharmacy" or similar terms shall be restricted to the area registered by the department, except that nothing in this restriction shall prevent the placement on the exterior of such establishment of signs indicating the existence of a pharmacy therein. Such exterior signs may consist of the name of the registrant and/or the word pharmacy; provided, however, that when the word pharmacy is used, it may not be used in juxtaposition to a nonregistered name. When the pharmacy is not open during all the hours maintained by the general merchandising establishment, an exterior sign shall indicate clearly when the pharmacy is open and when it is closed.”

Along with this interpretation:

“As I read it, the wording is such that you can have a sign on the exterior indicating that there is a pharmacy inside the store; however, because the use of the word ‘pharmacy,’ etc. is restricted to that part of the store where the pharmacy is actually located, the exterior sign should be qualified by the ‘dept. within’ language to clearly indicate that while there is a pharmacy therein, the entire store isn't a pharmacy. That said, it's open to interpretation and this interpretation might amount to an abundance of caution. (And I admit that if I hadn't seen hundreds of signs so qualified, this might not have been my first read.) Of course, you could keep the pharmacy a secret and not have any sign outside referring to it at all, but that's hardly going to be good for business. Finally, if it's not heavily enforced, or if the penalties are very mild, a business might well decide to take a chance and save a few bucks on signage.”

Now I have to admit that there’s a certain logic to the law.  In a day when Walmart sells drugs and chain “drugstores” sell everything from foodstuffs to lawn chairs, perhaps the desperate customer needs a little guidance.  Is there a “pharmacy within”?  Shouldn’t it be clearly demarcated from the aisles filled with dogfood, storm windows, bicycles, and engine blocks?

But anyone entering Brown’s who can’t tell the Irish Peddler gift shop on the right from the pharmacy ten feet away on the left is probably already suffering from too much medication, not too little.    

Perhaps the law could be amended:  “In towns of 2000 population or less, all pharmacies operating since before the Civil War are exempted.”

Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

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