By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Nov 15, 2004 at 5:21 AM

{image1}Five years ago, Brooke Maroldi released her documentary called "Death of a Corner Drugstore," chronicling the unique culture of the Oriental Pharmacy that went out of business in 1995 after several Osco Drugs moved into the neighborhood.

Maroldi made the film in response to this epidemic of large chains gobbling up or closing down smaller "mom and pops" due to their inability to compete with the likes of Osco, Wal-Mart and Aurora.

Some independent pharmacies, however, survived. But how did they do it?

"I turned down offers, that's how," says Jim Searles, owner of the Brady Street Pharmacy. "Money is nice, but it's not everything."

Part of Searles' ability to stay afloat is because he owns the building that houses his pharmacy, restaurant, theater and personal living space, and doesn't have to raise prices to offset an expensive mortgage or rent payment.

"You have to make choices in life and ask yourself who you are and where you're going," he says.

Rob Knutsen, who owns Swan Serv-U Pharmacy on 92nd and North Avenue, distills Swan's success to superior service.

"We service the customer to death," says Knutsen, who's owned the business for 34 years.

Knutsen says Swan is also five or 10 percent cheaper than Walgreens. Plus, they take all types of insurance, make deliveries and smile and talk to customers. However, Knutsen plans to retire in five years, as does his partner Bob Matenaer, so the future of his independent pharmacy is unknown.

"Who's going to take over?" he asks. "Who knows?"

Hayek's Pharmacy owner Bill Quandt gives similar reasons for the survival of his small Shorewood pharmacy on the corner of Downer Avenue and Capitol Drive.

"We offer services that the others don't," he says. "Deliveries, in-store charges and a lot of personal attention to our customers. We always remember they're people, not numbers."

Quandt purchased the building and the business from the Hayek family about 15 years ago and says business has been good, even though the hours are long.

Three years ago, Richard and Joan Dvorsky sold their Eastown Pharmacy on Jefferson Street to Aurora. The Dvorskys were unable to comment due to Aurora's strict ban on their conversing with the media, but numerous customers, including OMC's Bobby Tanzilo, says the business stayed the same after Aurora bought it.

"When people walk in, they still see the two people they know of who have been running the place for years. Behind the scenes, things have changed, but out front -- other than a new logo and name -- everything looks the same," says Tanzilo, who worked for the Dvorskys when the business was called Compounding Lab. "It's smart, I think ... Aurora didn't feel the need to snuff out the individuality."

Even though it's been almost six years since her documentary was released, Maroldi still can't pinpoint why some pharmacies have survived.

"All of it makes about as much sense to me as the outcome of the election," she says.

When pharmacy owner Dave Moczynski, who owns the Prescription Center on Mason Street, was contacted to be a part of the article, he wasn't able to comment. His silence, however, spoke volumes about what it takes for the little guys to stay in business.

"I can't talk to you," said Moczynski. "It's not that I don't want to, I'm just so busy that I can't."

When asked if we could call back, he said, "No. I'm always really busy."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.