In with the Old, In with the New

WELLNESS-November 2012
By Sophie Nelson
Photographs by Sean Alonzo Harris

Catherine Cloudman and Apothecary by Design’s healthy approach to pharmacy.

It is a bright Friday morning in Perx-U-Up Cafe on Portland’s Marginal Way, the seamless extension of the independent pharmacy Apothecary by Design. In one corner of the cafe, I observe a young mother and her small kids busy with coloring books and paperbacks, nibbling on baked goods. An older gentleman nestles into a sun-soaked armchair. There are no checkered tile floors, dark wooden shelves, or Art Deco details—the cafe is remarkably clean and modern, and yet it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a throwback pharmacy. Peering down the length of the shop, I see shelves lined with food, teas, chocolates, tinctures, lotions, medicines, and supplements. I see men and women in white coats guiding customers through the immaculate space. I think back on my past pharmacy experiences—the buckets of discounted candy, the long wait, the glare of florescent lights. Apothecary by Design seems like nothing I’m used to and everything it ought to be.

Upon meeting Catherine Cloudman, principal and cofounder of Apothecary by Design, I unabashedly blurt out my assessment. She smiles and takes a sip of coffee from a ceramic mug. “Would you like me to show you around?” she asks. In addition to offering exceptional products, Apothecary by Design is committed to caring for patients in a beautiful, comfortable setting. In the same way a home can reveal the personality of its maker, the pharmacy’s philosophy and erudite execution seem to reflect Cloudman’s conspicuous integrity, composure, and friendliness. She is clearly in her element.

Cloudman’s career path might surprise some. She grew up in Gorham and left Maine to study advertising and accounting at Syracuse University. After college, she worked with the large accounting firm KPMG and earned an MBA from Boston College. Cloudman eventually moved back to Maine and helped establish the consulting firm Cloudhawk Management Consultants, where she advised closely-held and family-owned businesses throughout New England on strategy development, succession planning, and business valuation. “I did that for a long time, and I loved it. But at some point, I came to realize that I wanted to be one of those people creating value in a business.”

Life happened. Child number two, then three, came along, and Cloudman took a temporary hiatus from work to be with them. In 2007, former clients and founders of Portland Professional Pharmacy—a business she helped grow and sell in the early 2000s—approached her with a new business idea. Be still her entrepreneurial heart. Here was an opportunity to forge a unique business model in an ever-evolving industry. To recycle the long-discarded but deeply relevant values of soda-fountain pharmacies and provide critical support to consumers of prescription medicines that become more complicated by the day. Cloudman and her cohorts saw an opportunity to fill in the widening gaps between patients, practitioners, and insurance companies. Ultimately, they wanted to build a viable, dynamic business that positively influenced the community. Cloudman entered the picture full time in 2008. Apothecary by Design closed on its financing the day before the stock market crashed that year, and in November it opened its doors. “We all just kind of held hands and took a leap of faith,” Cloudman says in good humor. Today, Apothecary by Design is thriving, so much so that it will soon expand to nearby venues.

Cloudman and her colleagues at Apothecary by Design have their work cut out for them. In addition to providing above and beyond retail-pharmacy services—think standard prescription pick-ups, refills, etc.—they also provide nutritional health and well-being counseling; compound medications made from raw ingredients in their lab; and provide specialty pharmacy services for patients with chronic, complex diseases such as infertility, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Few pharmacies provide such a wide range of services, since it requires an incredible amount of patient advocacy and coordination of care. In the case of a transplant patient, an Apothecary by Design pharmacist is actually present when the patient is discharged from the hospital and counsels the patient and their family on the subsequent medicinal regimen. To seek out complementary supplements and alternative options that work in concert with prescription medicines, patients might consult with experts like Jaana Tubby, a European-trained homeopath, or Greg Boucouvalas, a founding partner of Apothecary by Design and a science-based nutritional specialist.

Staying ahead of the curve in an ever-shifting industry is challenging work, and Cloudman and her colleagues—whom she finds unequivocally inspiring—are constantly imagining new and better ways to meld timeless medical values and cutting-edge technology. But the greatest rewards come in the form of flowers, phone calls from a fertility patient—”I’m pregnant!”—and the countless cards and random thank-yous from patients when out and about in Portland.

Before leaving the cafe, I purchase an Echinacea-infused throat spray that Jaana Tubby and Catherine recommend (a cold has set in with the change of season) and a coffee to go. I look longingly upon the now-empty armchair. This is what being cared for by your pharmacist—or, in this case, a wellness specialist, barista, and entrepreneur—looks like in the twenty-first century.

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