About Utah: These guys aren't afraid of competition

Published: Sunday, March 4 2012 10:01 p.m. MST

Four generations of Meiers, Robert C. Meier, left, Jeremy, Devin, (holding baby James) and Justin pose in front of the new Meier's Pharmacy recently opened in Holladay.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

HOLLADAY— On the one hand, Devin Meier has the perfect location for his new drugstore.

It's on Holladay Boulevard, one of the east valley's most popular shopping enclaves.

Down the street is Meier's Chicken and Meier's Catering, two respected businesses that have been around so long they're considered local institutions and are run, respectively, by his father and his uncle.

And Devin was born and raised in Holladay, so he's surrounded by plenty of friends and knows the area like the back of his hand.

But … wait?

Isn't that a Walgreens next door?

And isn't that a Rite Aid on the other side?

Nothing like moving in between the No. 1 (Walgreens) and No. 3 (Rite Aid) drug retailers in America to make things a bit more challenging.

What's next. Starting a football franchise in Green Bay? Opening a computer company in Palo Alto?

Uh, Devin, had your peripheral vision checked lately?

Yes, Devin, 28, says as he stands behind his brand new pharmacy counter, he has heard plenty of, shall we say, skepticism.

"Lots of people have told me they think I'm crazy," he says.

But then, in the same breath, he adds, "If anyone will just give me five minutes, I can convince them why this makes sense."

In the pharmacy business, he explains, it isn't the pharmacies that determine how much you pay for your prescriptions. It's the insurance companies.

"Insurance dictates the price. You can go here, there, there or there, and it's the same price; they can't change what the insurance will pay. People walk in here sidewise, thinking we'll be so expensive. They think we can't compete with the big guys, but in pharmacy we really can."

In the four weeks Meier's Pharmacy has been open, Devin, who graduated from pharmacy college in 2010, has been talking nonstop to the Holladay locals about the virtues of a locally owned business.

In addition to being able to offer prescriptions at a competitive price, he talks up the virtues of personal hometown service (free delivery for area elderly!) and the fact that many of the non-drug items for sale in the store were made just down the street or around the corner.

The front of the drugstore is filled with kids clothes, chocolates, candy, artwork, purses, scarves and other crafts, all locally produced.

"Lots of people want to be involved," says Devin's wife, Mia, who, with assistance from 41/2-month-old James, runs the cash register at the front of the store.

In the back, Devin's younger brother Justin, a college graduate in finance and co-owner of the store, is in charge of the business end of things, handling the bookkeeping, advertising and marketing.

Beyond that, Devin and Justin's dad, Jeremy, is the landlord.

Payroll and overhead at Meier's Pharmacy is almost entirely a family affair.

Everything about the enterprise, for that matter, is a family affair.

Running businesses in Holladay has been a Meier tradition since Robert L. Meier and his wife, Sadie, left Cincinnati and moved to Utah in 1943.

Robert L. went to work as a meat-cutter for the IGA grocery store in Holladay and before long bought the store. After a short time he sold out and opened Bob's Dairy Bar on Highland Drive. Once that was up and running, he sold it and in 1948 opened Meier's Market, a popular Holladay grocery store.

When Robert L. retired, his son, Robert C., took over. The market later became Meier's Meats and eventually Meier's Catering Company, with yet another business, Meier's Chicken, joining the cartel.

Robert C.'s son, Robert K., is in charge of the catering company these days. Another son, Marshall, runs the meat counter and deli at The Store on the other side of Holladay Boulevard, and another son, Jeremy – Devin and Justin's dad – owns and runs Meier's Chicken.

One thing the new pharmacy in town doesn't have to worry about is lunch.

As the reigning patriarch of this bunch of all-American entrepreneurs, 86-year-old Robert C. Meier says he's proud of what his grandsons are tackling at the new drugstore.

"There's always room for a good pharmacy and a good business," he says. "They're honest young men and they know how to work. I think they'll do wonderful."

He recalled that he was a young man himself, just home from the war, when his father opened Meier's Market in 1948.

He remembers that was no sure thing.

"Safeway came in, then Albertsons came in," he says. "But we outlasted them all."

Sorta makes you wonder who's the real bully on this block, doesn't it?

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: lbesnon@desnews.com

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