Drug store moving

The B&W Rexall Drug store in Inverness has been a longtime fixture in Inverness. It will soon have a new home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed a long-time business that just couldn’t survive the two-month, state-mandated closure and the changing times.

B&W Rexall Drugs, one of the original tenants of Citrus Plaza in Inverness when it opened in 1964, has closed the restaurant part of its business and soon the gift shop will follow.

Owner/pharmacist Ken Heimann, said he will shutter the entire place the second or third week of June and relocate to a much smaller and more manageable building about a block away, at 102 E. Highlands Blvd. and focus solely on the pharmacy and health care.

Rexall’s closing follows on the heels of another longtime Inverness business that announced it will be shutting down: Little Italy Deli & Bakery, off North Apopka Avenue. That popular deli-bakery was there for almost 45 years.

The 50s-style deli inside B&W Rexall was popular with locals for its 88-cent breakfast. But Heimann was forced to close the restaurant in mid-March when the state ordered all eateries closed due to the coronavirus. He didn’t even attempt to reopen when the governor allowed it because at 25 or 50% capacity, it wouldn’t have made sense. Also, most patrons are still afraid to venture out, he said.

“I cannot breathe life back into this business,” said Heimann, who took over B&W in 1989. “(With) this virus, I don’t have a choice.”

Heimann had to let about 20 restaurant employees go and is now down to six. And some of them he will have to let go once he moves to the Highlands Boulevard store. There just won’t be enough work for them there, he said.

If the coronavirus had not happened, Heimann said he would likely still be where he is, with the restaurant open.

But given the declining patronage and the changing face of shoppers and diners, Heimann said he could see that it might have been only a matter of time before downsizing was necessary to stay afloat.

Younger people, he said, didn’t patronize the restaurant or the gift shop as much. It was the pharmacy and his loyal customer base that was making the financial needle move.

He knew he needed a backup plan so even before the virus broke out, he had set his sights on the vacant building off Highlands — much smaller, less rent, less overhead.

The coronavirus, he said, just advanced those plans. He notified his present landlord he was leaving and negotiated a lease with the new building.

“I really don’t have a choice,” he said.

Heimann said he will keep the pharmacy open up to the time he relocates and hopes his regulars will follow him there.

Heimann said his dream was to someday have one of his children follow in his footsteps in the pharmacy when he retired.

“It doesn’t look like it will happen,” he said.

Charles Rogers of Inverness, a regular to B&W Rexall, said he will miss the current location but understands the owner’s predicament with the pandemic.

“The whole county is suffering,” said Rogers, who was forced to lay off two employees at his local construction company because of the fall-off in business precipitated by the shutdown.

Rogers said he believes the move will ultimately benefit Heimann.

“I think it’s going to be better off for them,” he said, citing cheaper rent and utility bills.

Rogers said Heimann no longer needed the gift store or restaurant and it makes sense to focus on the pharmacy, which he calls the “moneymaker.”

“The restaurant had good food but it was never busy enough to turn a profit,” he said. “It’s going to be a transition but I think the pharmacy is going to be better off for it.”

Meanwhile, Keimann invites folks to a going-out-of business sale, where everything — excluding prescriptions — is 20% off. He also hopes his regulars and new customers will follow him to his new location when it opens.

“We look forward for all of you to be a part of our new journey,” he said.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com.