When Sterling Drug owners announced earlier this summer that the store in Harmony would be operating under reduced hours, the Harmony Economic Development Authority (EDA), Harmony's Mayor Steve Donney and Chamber director Emily Ellis responded by contacting them and offering to conduct a customer survey to show them how important the business and its services are to the residents of Harmony.

According to Sam Ewing, director of operations, and Tim Gallagher, the chief operating officer of Astrup, Inc., they were grateful for Harmony's involvement and postponed the decision to reduce their hours until after the surveys were completed and the meeting with the Harmony representatives took place.

After careful consideration, the business will experience a reduction in hours, but both Ewing and Gallagher feel the new hours will better suit the Harmony community. In addition to extending the hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to 6:30 p.m. to accommodate residents who live out of town, the company will also add hours on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to allow additional shopping opportunities for residents and visitors to Harmony. Those hours took affect on Monday, Oct. 14.

"We are going to be open later in the evenings and open on Saturday as we found out (through the survey) that a lot of people work outside of Harmony and get back into town after we were closing," said Ewing. "We are going to try and make it more accessible for them."

With the new hours, the company will still realize some savings with a reduction of 13 hours a week on the days they are now closed, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The store had not been open on Sunday.

Ewing explained that Astrup, Inc., a company based in Austin, Minn., purchased six pharmacies from Ron Witt in 2012. Astrup operates 16 Sterling Drug stores and pharmacies in Minnesota and Iowa and continues to be a family-owned business. It has been operating since 1952.

Gallagher said, "We were losing money in Harmony, as was the case over the past several years with the previous owner. We knew we had to do something - either get more business or cut expenses. We don't want to leave Harmony or leave the residents without a pharmacy."

It was at that point that the Harmony contingent got involved and brought the survey to the forefront.

"It was very wise to get that feedback from the community," said Ewing.

The men noted that it typically takes a town with a population of 2,000 to support a pharmacy. "You have to have a certain population and the people in town have to frequent that pharmacy for it to work," Gallagher said.

Sadly, pharmacies are closing across the rural areas as Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements decrease and operating costs increase. Individual-owned pharmacies are becoming more and more rare as their owners reach retirement age and the pharmacists just coming out of school don't want to leave the urban areas or do not want to own their own businesses.

"We're a bit different," said Ewing. "We like small towns. We want to buy them and we want to keep them open, but we also have to keep them profitable."

Both men agreed that there is a certain responsibility of the Harmony residents in keeping the local pharmacy operating in Harmony. However, both Ewing and Gallagher stressed that utilizing the services of the local pharmacy will not require customers to make sacrifices of what one may experience from the "big box" stores.

"People's perception is that we can't compete with the prices or services they may be getting from the big box stores, but in reality, we are offering the same programs they do," said Ewing. "We have free mail outs, free delivery, a prescription punch card and price match."

Gallagher stressed that Astrup, Inc., board members and owners have never considered leaving Harmony. "Closing the store is not our intent, not our plan, not even our backup plan," he said. We are committed to Harmony and it will take some planning and some cooperation, but we are here and we hope to be here for many years."

Ewing agreed and concluded, "There's no reason to believe that these new hours can't work out for everyone."

Chris Giesen, Harmony's EDA director, commented, "From an economic development perspective, this highlights the importance of shopping local and supporting our local businesses. Sterling has been wonderful to work with and has been very receptive to the community's concerns; they were able to utilize our comments and input from survey responses and made adjustments accordingly that will help support long term success in Harmony."

Giesen added that shopping local has a chain effect and keeping local dollars revolving through Harmony's economy helps support the diverse business community the residents currently enjoy. "In order to keep these types of services available in Harmony, we have to support them."