BRANFORD — About two weeks ago, on Aug. 14, a Wednesday, Karen Ragonese was outside her office in the Towne Pharmacy building on Main Street in downtown Branford. She was rushing, almost running.
Karen was in a hurry and had been since she started the day with a game of tennis. As she rushed, she or someone nearby said, “Whoosh.” And whooshing seemed the perfect word for what Karen was doing then and all day — whooshing from her office to hug a crying customer (quite a few customers were tearful this day) and to an employee who had a question. She rarely seemed to stand still.
The day had threatened to be a stressful day, and a landmark day for many Branford residents who early in the day started flocking to the pharmacy.
What made this Wednesday different from other Wednesdays was that it was the last business day for Towne Pharmacy. The pharmacy has now closed — sold to CVS Pharmacy after a run of 54 years since Karen’s father, William Ward, founded it.
It has been 16 years since Karen and her husband, Vincent Ragonese, took the reins of Towne. Vince has been manager of the Durable Medical Equipment business, which had been folded into the pharmacy. And it will remain; a section of the old pharmacy’s space will become the newly named Down-Towne Medical Equipment store. Vince will be manager, assisted by Karen.
On Wednesday there was not exactly a party, but customers and friends started jamming into the store on Tuesday and flocked to the store again on Wednesday.
The Tuesday visitors seemed largely to be farewell sayers ... with farewells often accompanied by tears. Wednesday’s visitors seemed more in coping mode; they brought with them baked goods, and baskets of flowers and fruits, a few bottles of bubbly.
Employees seemed stoic — to a degree. Suzanne Klarman who has been the prescription cashier, and who possessed some sort of sixth sense in locating prescriptions seemingly buried in a mound of prescriptions, said tersely, “I’m living in denial right now.” She added, “I’m going to miss everyone.” Klarman, a slight woman with silvery hair, “is one of those I corralled into working for me,” says Karen.
Karen, 60, who has raised two boys and a girl (the younger boy enters college this fall) is a registered pharmacist and has been one of the two full-time pharmacists at Towne. She says, “Work drives me. I was driven by the store. People-interaction with people — drives me.” She likes work, and tennis.
What then is in her future?
“I have a plan,” she says, “I will be here at some point, in business. I have things planned.”
The Main Street site of Towne Pharmacy has held a drugstore since 1890; photos of the stores are displayed in the front windows of what will be the Down-Towne DME store. Does history suggest the future?
I’m not disappearing,” Karen says. A clue?