By  on October 12, 2007

NEW YORK — The death Monday of Robert Bolger is the most recent loss of the founding members of what comprises today's American drugstore retailing.

Bolger died Monday from congestive heart failure at the age of 85. He is survived by his wife, Helen, six children and eight grandchildren.

Bolger was the first president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and helped create the prestigious Annual Meeting, called by most industry sources the best meeting of top-to-top minds in the industry.

Along with many founding drugstore chain executives, Bolger truly built the architecture of NACDS and the entire drugstore chain industry. The roots of NACDS date back to the Thirties, when several drugstore owners met at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York. That eventually led to a more formal association galvanized by Bolger and located in Virginia — close enough to be a power on Capitol Hill.

Many of these founders also have passed away in the last decade, handing the reins over to a new generation. Among those gone are Henry Panasci, founder of Fay's Drug; Henry Haft, who started Dart Drug; Jack Fruth of Fruth Pharmacies; Sidney Dworkin of Revco, and Jack Eckerd of Eckerd Drug. Bolger was also predeceased by his successor at NACDS, Ron Ziegler, who took over in 1987.

Many of these men where pharmacists who opened a handful of stores in the Thirties and Forties that mushroomed into chains in the Sixties and Seventies. Their companies became so powerful, many were snapped up by larger corporations, a move that initiated the consolidation of chain drugstore retailing to the point that three major chains dominate drugstore sales today. In fact, many of the chains created by the deceased founders are no longer in existence.

The founding retailers had pharmacy backgrounds, as did Bolger, who worked with pharmaceutical suppliers such as Smith Kline & French prior to joining NACDS' efforts. Although his pharmaceutical heritage helped him comprehend the pharmacy issues facing the industry, he was also keenly aware of the weight the front end of the store carries.

He established a special meeting for cosmetics and fragrance buyers early on at NACDS and eventually saw the need to expand that concept into the Marketplace Conference. Marketplace quickly grew to be the most powerful product launching pad in mass retailing.The type of executive Bolger was — along with the likes of Eckerd and Panasci — are worlds apart from today's drugstore retailing executives. In most cases, pharmacists can no longer set up shop and grow to multiple stores. Executives today have to know a great deal about managing large firms that must crunch tremendous amounts of data. However, Bolger's ideals are still at work in chain drugstore retailing, especially as efforts are put in place to strengthen the front end while also trying to return to the down-home feeling of community pharmacies of earlier days.

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