Geiger pharmacy turns 50

Drive down Bay Street, past the mom-and-pop shops and the antique stores, to find Port Orchard’s roots.

Along the way sits a two-story structure that houses a business so old that it preceded the 1890 incorporation of Sidney — Port Orchard‘s original name — by two years.

Port Orchard’s longest-tenured councilman Robert Geiger has owned and run Geiger Port Orchard Pharmacy since 1957 when he purchased it from Harold Hanley, one of several owners in the store’s history.

Mary Schumacher, 82, who worked at Geiger’s from 1967-74 and again from 1998-2001, said Geiger built his business around integrity.

“He just hung in there,” she said. “His commitment was to the people. When people needed insulin, he didn’t charge them the going price, he sold it to them at cost. I admired him for that. He wasn’t out there for the almighty dollar.

“He always took the time with people to explain things to them in detail. I learned that doctors would prescribe antibiotics, but they wouldn’t tell people that they needed acidophilus to redevelop the bacteria in the stomach.”

She said that is just part of Geiger’s personality — he relishes the opportunity to greet customers and share stories.

But how much longer that will continue remains to be seen.

Geiger, who will turn 79 in July, and his wife Ursula closed the Plaza Twin Cinema in 2005 for a lack of business and said he will not run for re-election after 45 years in office. And the pharmacy, which has operated in the same location since Feb. 1, 1977, might not be far behind.

Geiger blames Medicare Part D, a federal program that went into effect in January 2006 and subsidizes the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries in the U.S. He said the program means that he sometimes makes less than a dollar on sales and not more than $3, which is not enough to sustain a store that always has done “modest business.”

“You’re fixing the price back to 20 years ago,” he said. “We make a gross profit that is barely or unable to carry the cost of doing business, let alone pay salaries. If I had to hire someone today, I should be out of here tomorrow.

“Only big stores which sell A-to-Z in large quantities and have multi-billion dollars backing it can stay in the game.”

That means Geiger is ready to sell “tomorrow.”

“If we can find a person or persons who would like to buy it, I would certainly make a deal with them because it’s time to let someone else do it,” he said.

Geiger, who works along with his wife, once had similar sentiments about his city council position, but said fellow councilman Don Morrison agreed several years ago to trade his two-year seat for Geiger’s four-year seat.

“Then another two years came by and the arm-twisting continued,” Geiger said, laughing. “But this time I’ve decided I’m not going to do it anymore.”

Geiger has handled the finance and street committees, among others, during his tenure. And while Bay Street has changed over time, he said nothing is more different than technological standards. Geiger, a Tacoma native and University of Washington graduate, said one of his first investments when he purchased the pharmacy was a Smith Corona Typewriter.

“It was, ‘Wow, you’ve got an electric typewriter,’ ” he said. “Most of the drug stores had older typewriters which were upright ... they were a challenge to type on.”

It might have been his longest-lasting technological investment.

“Around 1980 you’ve got to have a computer and soon enough that computer isn’t good enough and then the program is outdated, so you have to get a new program,” he said.

Geiger said another significant change is the requirement for pharmacists to continue their education through classes and the development of medication. In the lower level of the building Geiger works out of, which also houses the post office where Ursula works, he shelves numerous magazines and articles.

“To me he knows more than a lot of doctors because he keeps up to date on things,” Schumacher said. “He can’t throw anything anyway because he wants to reference everything. He subscribes to some many medical books and magazines.

“For how old he is, he’s a very up-to-date pharmacist.”

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