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There’s been a pharmacy at 1415 Colley Avenue since 1975.

Stephan and Abby Buchberg have owned it since 1984, when Stephan bought it. He’s 72 now, and Abby has some health troubles. They don’t want to sign another long term lease.

For years, the Buchbergs served the Jones Institute at EVMS, dispensing drugs to help with infertility. They got to watch families grow up.

They’re loved. Customers come in to say thank you, shalom or drop off their final pill bottles to Abby behind the counter. On one of their last days, a customer brought flowers and another dropped off a bottle of wine.

“Just all the people I've met over the years, all the physicians that work here that have come here, they had enough faith in me to use me as their pharmacist,” said Stephan. “That was very heartwarming.”

Image: Laura Philion

Stephan grew up watching his father work as a pharmacist. His parents both passed away when he was a teenager, and not long after, he chose pharmacy school.

“40 years is long enough,” Stephan said. “Life is short.”

Many of the area’s independent pharmacies have closed in the last few years – Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy in Suffolk, Barr’s Pharmacy at the Oceanfront, Hague Pharmacy and Gray’s Pharmacy in Norfolk.

Nobody keeps data on how many mom-and-pop pharmacies are left. But in these cases, nearly every owner cited decreased prescription reimbursements from insurance companies. CVS Health and Express Scripts, two pharmacy benefit managers, own nearly 75% of the market – enabling them to lowball reimbursements without suffering like independent pharmacists.

The Buchbergs’ pharmacy location has changed rapidly in recent years.

Image: Laura Philion

Last week the YNot Pizza location closed. The Red Dog Saloon was empty for years. The Ghent Health Food Center shuttered after more than 50 years of operation. NARO Expanded Video went out of business in 2019, and the A. Dodson's Gift store closed.

Each of those were locally owned businesses.

“We are a dying breed,” Abby Buchberg  said. “And like our children – my children – they’ll never know from this kind of business. They don't know. Where do they go? The big box stores.”

Samuel Wheeler has worked at Colley Pharmacy for nearly five years – it put him through school at ODU. He’s going on to a doctoral program in Chicago in the fall.

“I know people's names and addresses. Like I sometimes just see the top of their heads, and I already have their bags pulled out,” he said. “They've really become – as cliche as it is – they've become a sort of family.”