The Arlington General Store & Post in Kensington, a neighborhood staple since the 1920s, closed its door on December 31st. The Country Cheese Company, with two locations in Berkeley, will be moving in sometime next month.
The “skyrocketingly high" cost of drugs and competition from larger pharmacies has made business tough for the last 10 years, said Arlington General Store owner Wing Gee.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave a business and neighborhood you love,” Gee said. “Our store was a victim of the recession, and even though it’s picking up now, it still wasn’t working for us.” Gee bought the store 20 years ago, making him the fourth owner and pharmacist over the store’s 80 year span.
Things started to go downhill for Gee’s business when he decided to stop filling prescriptions early last year to cut down on costs. He transferred all of the prescription files to the CVS drugstore on Solano Ave. in Albany.“It was very devastating for the neighborhood,” Gee said. “They’re used to a small and personal pharmacist and were upset when we discontinued that service. I don’t blame them.”
After changing its name from the Arlington Pharmacy to the Arlington General Store & Post with the help of residents, Gee’s store continued to stay open for the rest of year providing over-the-counter drugs, miscellaneous merchandise, gifts and its locally famous postal service. But with its closing, residents will now have to take their postal needs to the next closest office on Solano Ave.
Just across the street, another dark store front once housing the now closed Sugar Cone Cafe is a constant reminder of the struggle for small businesses in the Kensington commercial strip to keep the lights on.
“Everyone wants to support local businesses,” said Drew Lehman, general manager of Inn Kensington Restaurant, “but they always have that thought after the business is closed."
The Country Cheese Shop, an "old-fashioned" shop offering a selection of cheese from around the world, is generating positive attention. They've posted a sign in the window asking for full and part time help.
“I think it will be great for the neighborhood and fits in with the gourmet ghetto spirit,” Gee said, who plans to retire in Walnut Creek and enjoy more time with his grandchildren.
“All the neighborhood people have been so kind over the last 20 years,” he said. “Being their pharmacist and a neighbor has been a pleasure.”
What kinds of businesses would you like to see in Kensington, or in your neighborhood? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, and never miss a headline with our daily newsletter.