The corner chemist closes its doors

Athina May

Unable to compete against the giant supermarket pharmacies that have sprung up in recent years, Milnerton’s last independent pharmacy has closed its doors, striking a chord with many residents, some of whom were among the original list of clients the previous owner handed to pharmacist Merwyn Modlinne when he took over the running of Cambridge Pharmacy 51 years ago.

Kelly Grande posted on the Milnerton Neighbours Facebook page saying, “Such a sad day yesterday. Cambridge Pharmacy has closed its doors for the last time. Thanks for the wonderful service and kind smiles and advice my family has had since we moved here in 1986, Mr Modlinne,”

The post received more than 80 comments from residents who expressed their shock at the pharmacy’s closure. Trish Beard said, “They were there when I was a baby.” Marja de Witte said, “Three generations have been helped by Mr Modlinne and his kind team. My parents, myself and my daughter and her family.”

Susan Hudson wanted to pay tribute to the Cambridge employees and said, “They knew intimate details of all our lives, the ups and downs and never failed to give great advice and service. We wish them all the best.”

Melanie Schkolne said, “If only I knew. Would have thanked them personally. Oriel, Rashaan and Carol and not to forget Mervyn who in times of need always made me feel reassured and gave me advice. I would have liked to have given them gifts. Devastated and going to miss our chats.”

Mr Modlinne heard about the messages from his daughter, Adine Friedman, and was deeply moved by them.

“I’m not on Facebook, but my daughter told me, ‘Dad, I want you to read this.’ I read the comments and became tearful,” he said with a deep sigh.

The pharmacy had been liquidated and could no longer compete with pharmacy franchises such as Dischem, Clicks and other supermarket pharmacies with bigger buying power, he said.

“When I came here, from the beginning of Koeberg Road to the end of Milnerton, there were eight pharmacies, but as time went by they eroded until it was just me and a friend, who owned Ascot Pharmacy, left.”

“He moved his pharmacy from Ascot to the old Centre Point which was the hub of Milnerton, but when Centre Point was demolished, so was the pharmacy.

“I would have sold my pharmacy to move into the new Centre Point Mall, but it is just a ‘gat’ now,” said Mr Modlinne.

After Ascot Pharmacy closed, Cambridge Pharmacy was the only community pharmacy left in Milnerton. Now, with its demise, Mr Modlinne fears customers will no longer experience the intimacy they once had with independent pharmacies.

“Unfortunately, the independent pharmacy is slowly being removed, approximately a third are gone, and it’s happening all over the world. Corporate pharmacy was the demise of pharmacy. The supermarket pharmacies don’t have that pharmacy smell anymore.”

Mr Modlinne always had a passion for pharmacies and wanted to enter the business since the tender age of 12.

“My uncle had a pharmacy on the corner of Hope and Roeland streets in town, and I loved the feeling and the smell of being in the pharmacy. When I matriculated, I thought I would give it a shot.”

With little money in his pocket, Mr Modlinne did a two-year apprenticeship before completing his pharmaceutical studies at the then Cape Technikon. After getting married, he moved to Milnerton, where his career at Cambridge Pharmacy began.

When Mr Modlinne bought Cambridge Pharmacy, it came equipped with old pharmacy manuals and a client list, which would stay with him for the next 51 years.

“They switched from an old experienced pharmacist to a young 25-year-old guy. But, in the end, I had a number of those families still with me and they grew into second and third generation.”

“The Graaff family, who owned the land Milnerton is situated on, which was given to them by Lord (Alfred) Milner, were also on my client list,” said Mr Modlinne, smiling.

Medicine was very different in the pharmacy, or “chemist” when he started out. Then, medicines such as tablets and powders would be made from scratch in store, and Mr Modlinne experienced this for the first time while working as a locum.

“On my first day of doing a locum, I got a prescription to make pills and it took me three days to make them. It was laxative pills. Then, dispensing mimicked cooking – you had raw ingredients you would put together.”

“I would mix a substance, which looks like clay, and mix it with the ingredients, I would then cut the clay into pieces and a machine would make them into little balls.

The balls then had to be dried and hardened. It took two to three days to make 36 pills,” said Mr Modlinne.

Although he welcomed the move to mass production of medicines, which eliminated the time-consuming process of making up medicines, it also laid the foundations for the arrival of the supermarket pharmacies and the ultimate demise of the individual pharmacy.

“One of my staff members was with me for 40 years and another for 27 years. We grew to become a family, an establishment over the years,” said Mr Modlinne with a heavy heart.

“I still bump into some of my clients and there is reminiscing and tears because they weren’t customers anymore, but they all became friends. I saw their families grow up and they saw my family grow up.

“Everyone I’ve seen has put a pedestal under my feet. It makes you feel good as medicine would,” laughs Mr Modlinne.

Previous article

West Coast Rugby Fest

Next article