By Tim Hunt
A family-owned Pleasanton institution closesUploaded: Oct 5, 2017
A Pleasanton institution closed last week when pharmacist Mike Clauser closed Custom Care Pharmacy on First Street.
Mike and his partner, Rusty Hewitson, had owned and operated the pharmacy for more than 40 years—Mike was involved for 39 years. They were familiar faces behind the pharmacy bench to thousands of Pleasanton residents for more than four decades. And they are both grew up here.
They saw lots of those people in their final two weeks of business as customers called in to have prescriptions filled and then came to pick them up. It was quite unusual for a business that was closing to have customers pouring in.
“We had a line out of the door. It looked like we were giving away free ice cream instead of going out of business,” Mike said.
The store history dates to the Jorgensen family which owned a pharmacy on Main Street that was then moved to the First Street location when parking became too challenging downtown—we’re talking parking challenges more than 40 years ago.
For Mike, Saturday’s closing marks the start of a time of well-deserved retirement, free from the challenges of operating a business that was open six days every week.
They will be missed because their employees knew their customers and greeted them by name. They went the extra mile in service.
What’s wonderful in the transition is that CVS, at its newest store at Bernal Ave. and Stanley Boulevard, will take over the customer lists for both the Pleasanton and San Ramon stores as well as most of the employees who are going to continue working. Long-time pharmacist Bob Mayes and tech Kathy Anderson will join Mike in retirement. Rusty sold his interest in the business to Mike five years ago, but kept showing up for work until he relocated to San Diego a year ago.
The partnership had interesting roots. Mike worked for Rusty’s father, Louis Hewitson, at his liquor store throughout his years at Amador Valley High School. Rusty, who was a few years older, already had finished pharmacy school and was serving in the Navy. When Rusty wrapped up his service, he bought into Alisal Pharmacy on First Street.
Mike joined him there in 1979. Over the years, their children, as well as Mike’s wife, MaryKay, were familiar faces behind the counter. Service was a consistent key to the family-owned business, which delivered prescriptions to folks who couldn’t get to the pharmacy.
Rusty’s son, Louis, worked for them for more than 20 years, mostly as a pharmacy tech. Mike’s son Danny, now an engineer, did almost everything during his high school years, John, managed the Pleasanton store for two years before turning it over to Joe Cardinale, whose grandfather, Joe Antonini was one of Pleasanton’s long-time independent insurance agents back when the population was a few thousand.
During the years, Mike and Rusty had to adjust to significant changes in the medical insurance situation. After years as an independent, they had to become a franchise of Medicine Shoppe because insurers were signing contracts with chain retailers and freezing out the independents. They had a 20-year marriage with Medicine Shoppe, at the original Pleasanton location and the San Ramon store, before the government recognized the folly of its regulatory ways and changed the rules.
That changed allowed them to rename their business Custom Care, based upon their long-time practice of mixing custom prescriptions. When they started in the business, that was common, but it faded over the years leaving Custom Care a nice niche. It got even better when the government imposed strict new equipment requirements on pharmacies that compound. Those involved a major investment that Mike and Rusty made at the San Ramon store. Any compounds were mixed there and will continue to be. The retail store closed, but the compounding operation will continue with a younger pharmacist.
When we were in a different insurance program, Custom Care was our pharmacy of choice. I remember the extra mile that Bob Mays went when my father-in-law was in the care of Hope Hospice. We had a care crisis and I called a few minutes before closing time to ask for a med. Bob filled that prescription and admitted me after hours to pick it up.
Imagine that happening with a chain store.