SKOWHEGAN — A snowy winter, limited parking spaces downtown and the elimination of the downtown parking regulator — the guy who marks tires with chalk — from the Police Department budget.
Those were the last straws for Kevin Holland, owner of Holland’s Variety Drug.
Holland, one of the biggest employers downtown, with 25 to 30 workers handling 500 prescriptions a day, is moving from his longtime Water Street address to High Street, near the Skowhegan Indian sculpture.
He’s been thinking about doing it for 20 years.
“It’s about accessibility,” said Holland, 50. “They’ll be able to drive up to the front door, have access to a drive-through pharmacy for people who can’t get out of the car or who have kids and don’t want to cross the street. It’s an accessibility issue. I really support downtown and I want to be a part of it.”
Holland, who also owns Mt. Blue Drug in Farmington, has bought the former U.S. Department of Agriculture service center at 12 High St. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District have moved to new digs at 70 East Madison Road in Skowhegan.
Holland said he plans to demolish the 1970s USDA building and construct a building on the same footprint. Architectural engineer Steve Govoni, of Skowhegan, is drawing up the design model.
“I’m not leaving downtown, but the right building came up,” he said. “It isn’t that this building has been bad for me. I’m just trying to make a good thing better.”
Holland said the amount of snow this year became a problem for some of his elderly customers, who had to either circle the block a couple of times to find a parking spot or traverse snowbanks to get to the store. Heavy trucks traveling through downtown also are a problem, he said.
Variety Drug has 5,000 square feet of space, with entrances on both Water Street and Commercial Street. The new store will have about 3,800 square feet of space, with doors on the parking lot side in front of the Indian statue and on High Street. The pharmacy’s name won’t change.
Holland said he plans to build dormers on a second level of the new building to house the company’s offices. He said the new structure will be in the conventional Cape Cod style of construction, a traditional New England office building.
Holland said he has heard from two or three potential buyers for the current location. One of them, he said declining to name the business, would be “an excellent fit” for downtown Skowhegan.
Even with big-box outlets now having pharmacies of their own, Holland said, Variety Drug remains one of the busiest drugstores in Maine, with a heavy, quick turnover of customers.
“I need to get that amount of people in and out, with parking downtown,” he said. “I’d like to make it easier for them to get here and home.”
He said his customers keep coming back because of loyalty and the large staff on hand to make sure people do not have to wait long to have their prescriptions filled.
Four licensed pharmacists are on the staff, including Holland, who received his degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston.
Holland also went to the recent Board of Selectmen’s meeting to get assurances that the two-hour parking limit for the 25 spaces in front of the Indian will be enforced. He said commuters often park there for the day, something that he would want remedied, given his investment in tearing down the old building and building a new one.
The pharmacy was founded in 1938 by Holland’s grandfather, James Holland, on Water Street, across from the Eagles Club. It was later operated by James Holland III, Kevin’s father; and Michael Holland, Kevin’s uncle. When James Holland III retired, Ed Cogan joined Michael as an owner in 1983 and moved to the current location.
Kevin Holland worked as a pharmacist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and at Laverdiere’s Super Drug Store in Portland. In 1994 he and his family moved back to Skowhegan and joined the business. Holland bought the building in 2002.
Holland said plans call for tearing down the existing building this summer and beginning construction right away. He said barring any delays, the new place should be up and running by early fall — before the snow flies again.