BIG Y ADDS PRESCRIPTION DRUGS TO ITS OFFERINGS

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It took several years of planning and careful consideration, but Big Y Foods is finally ready to hang an Rx placard on its stores.The 46-unit, family-owned chain, which operates in Connecticut and Massachusetts, earlier this month unveiled plans to add 12 pharmacies to its supermarkets in the next year. The first is scheduled to open in August in a store in Longmeadow, Mass.The

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It took several years of planning and careful consideration, but Big Y Foods is finally ready to hang an Rx placard on its stores.

The 46-unit, family-owned chain, which operates in Connecticut and Massachusetts, earlier this month unveiled plans to add 12 pharmacies to its supermarkets in the next year. The first is scheduled to open in August in a store in Longmeadow, Mass.

The move puts Big Y on a more even footing with other regional rivals like Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., and Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass. It also marks the chain's entry into a category long mined by the biggest players in the industry because of the customer loyalty it engenders and the sales boost it gives to other departments.

"We were the only guys that hadn't had them," said Claire D'Amour-Daley, vice president of corporate affairs. "That was one of the reasons we kept looking at it and looking at it."

She said the company acquired a few pharmacies several years ago when it bought some Edwards grocery stores, but it closed them. The company also considered leasing space to independent pharmacists as a way to bring a prescription service into its stores before the Longmeadow opportunity became available.

When a pharmacy next door to the Longmeadow Big Y was acquired by drug chain CVS and then shuttered because of its proximity to another CVS, D'Amour-Daley said Big Y finally found a home for its first prescription-drug service.

"We had more and more customers asking us to put a pharmacy in our store, so we finally decided to go for it," she said.

Although the company will put pharmacies in as many stores as it can, some stores are prevented from doing so by lease restrictions. Most new stores, including one being built in East Windsor, Conn., will include pharmacies. In addition to the 400-square-foot pharmacy being added to the front of the Longmeadow Big Y and the one in East Windsor, additional pharmacy openings are scheduled for Ludlow and East Longmeadow, Mass.

The stores will offer a variety of services in conjunction with the pharmacies, including cholesterol screenings, flu shots, diabetes screenings, blood-pressure testing and educational "wellness" days. In addition, the company will offer a phone-based prescription-refill service and is planning to add an Internet-based refill service as well.

D'Amour-Daley said the company still hadn't decided what other changes -- such as expanding health-and-beauty care -- might be made.

Michael Semanie Jr., a 25-year retail pharmacy veteran hired by Big Y earlier this year as director of pharmacy, has been spearheading the company's licensing and hiring efforts. Big Y said it expects to hire about 40 pharmacists and technicians to staff the first 12 stores.

D'Amour-Daley said the company is still searching for a name for the pharmacies.

"We're working with the copyright attorneys to see what's available," she said.