After nearly 36 years as the owner of Lipkin’s Pharmacy in Brooklawn, Camden County, pharmacist Jim DiAmore is closing up shop. At least, he’s trying to.
DiAmore, 71, and his wife, Karen, 60, who has worked beside him, haven’t taken a vacation during all those years. They wanted to close in February, but with the coronavirus pandemic, they stayed open a few more months.
“It’s not saying goodbye to customers, it’s saying goodbye to friends,” DiAmore said Monday.
On Saturday, DiAmore had a soft closing of the pharmacy, which he’s owned since August 1984 after taking it over from Herman Lipkin, who founded it in the 1920s and has since died. But DiAmore, who lives above the pharmacy, will still open its doors to help customers in need as he finalizes the closing.
The small community pharmacy has been a place where the DiAmores greet their customers by name and charge them at cost (or nothing if their mostly elderly clientele can’t afford to pay), and where DiAmore makes sure they have the right medication and doctor, numerous customers said in interviews.
The place was like Cheers, Karen DiAmore said Friday, referring to the TV show set at a Boston bar, where, as the theme song went, “everybody knows your name.”
The couple met when Karen was Jim’s customer. She started working there in May 1987 and they married in 1994.
In interviews, Jim DiAmore said the decision to close was made in part because of industry trends. Like other independent pharmacy owners, he has been struggling with low reimbursements paid by pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. And younger people tend to go to big chain stores. He also cited all the years he’s worked and his age.
“When I think about it, I get a tear in my eye,” he said Friday. “It’s hard to explain. Everyone’s friends around here.”
Customers think so, too. “This guy looks out for ... his customers,” said Vincent Conte Sr., 76, of Washington Township. “If he thinks a medicine is not good for you, he will tell you. I get more information from him than my own doctor. He’s just a super, super person.”
Conte previously lived in Bellmawr, but has continued to drive to Lipkin’s since moving to Gloucester County.
Karen Cornell, 70, who used to live in Brooklawn and now lives in Florida, recalled one of those rare times when DiAmore left the pharmacy. He was at the Brooklawn American Legion post on a Sunday watching a football game with her husband, George.
When DiAmore heard from her husband that she was home with a hurt back and had to wait until Monday to call her doctor, DiAmore left, went to the pharmacy to get her medication, and took it to her house, she said.
Customers said the DiAmores have donated to the American Legion and the borough’s baseball teams, and to help stray cats.
Ted Howarth, 73, senior vice commander of Brooklawn American Legion Post 72, and Dan Alley, 70, a Legion member, are co-chairing a Sept. 19 dinner at the Legion hall for the DiAmores. (For tickets, call Howarth at 856-456-8729.)
Howarth said DiAmore has donated about $1,500 each year to pay for the bulk of the Legion’s annual Christmas party for kids. “Jim is the type of guy who is very, very, very community-minded,” he said.
Tim Connors, 71, of Brooklawn, called DiAmore “my lifeline.”
“Any time I changed medicines or doctors, he goes out of the way to check that the doctor is qualified,” said Connors, recalling when he had an eye issue and DiAmore checked to see if the doctor was a surgeon.
Patricia Martello, 95, of Brooklawn, called the DiAmores “two of the nicest people you would ever wish to meet."
“They’re smiling and they talk to you, make you feel very comfortable while you’re waiting," she said. “Who am I going to go to now?”