Maryville pharmacist makes customized medications
It hasn’t always been easy for pharmacist Gary Ceretto to stay in business with rising drug costs, government regulations and insurance bureaucracies, but he keeps plugging away.
Customers like the personal, friendly service at Ceretto’s Maryville Pharmacy, one of the few small, independent pharmacies left in the metro-east. Joe Semanisin sees each visit as a chance to tease Gary about his golf game.
“I have nothing against big pharmacies,” said Joe, 71, of Maryville, a customer for decades. “I’ve gone to Walgreens at night when Gary is closed. But (Ceretto’s is) a family business, and Gary is a good guy. When he talks to customers, he’s very knowledgeable and gives the best advice he can. It’s just a nice place.”
The pharmacy recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. It opened in 1976, less than a month before Anderson Hospital down the road.
Five generations of Mark Diak’s family have patronized Ceretto’s. He remembers how the staff treated his Eastern European immigrant grandparents.
“To say they had broken English was to give them too much credit,” said Mark, 65, of Maryville. “Every other word was their native Slavic language. I was like their interpreter. We would walk up to the drug store, and everyone was so nice to them.”
It’s a family business, and Gary is a good guy. When he talks to customers, he’s very knowledgeable and gives the best advice he can. It’s just a nice place.
Joe Semanisin on Ceretto’s pharmacy
Gary, 64, of Glen Carbon, has survived competition from big discount stores mainly through diversification. He carries specialized medical supplies and equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs. His wife, Diane, runs a “breast boutique” — fitting women with prostheses after mastectomies — and a small convenience store at Meridian Village.
Gary also has carved a niche for himself as a compounding pharmacist who customizes medications for individual health conditions. He went through that training 20 years ago.
“It was something that no one was doing around here,” he said. “It was interesting, and it was a lot more fun than counting pills and pouring medicine.”
Perhaps a patient needs a drug mixture that isn’t commercially available; a special dosage or strength; or a prescription in cream, spray, gel or liquid rather than pill form. Gary can add flavors for children and make medicated lollipops or lozenges.
In an unexpected twist, much of the Ceretto’s compounding business involves animals and birds, including dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, ferrets, hawks, swans and eagles.
One of Gary’s animal compounds is a cream for cats with overactive thyroid. It’s rubbed on their ears and absorbed through the skin.
“Cats hate anything that goes in their mouths, so it’s hard to get a pill down,” said veterinarian Tia Simms, of Hawthorne Animal Hospital in Glen Carbon. “With the overactive thyroid, they need the medication twice a day. If you try to give them pills, they’ll start running away.”
Some dogs won’t take pills because of sore mouths. Others may bite when feeling sick. Gary has powders that can be liquified, flavored with beef or chicken and mixed into food.
Even wildlife rescue organizations lean on Gary and his compounding tech, Carrie Stauffer, an employee for 18 years. A red-tailed hawk once needed an antibiotic for a yeast infection. It was put in syringes to be injected in quail as a food source.
Ceretto’s also has helped bird sanctuaries treat swans and eagles poisoned by lead from buckshot in lakes and ponds by preparing precipitants that solidify heavy metals.
“There are pharmacies on the Internet that do compounding, but you have to wait,” Tia said. “I can usually call Gary or Carrie, and we can get it within 24 hours.”
Gary grew up in Collinsville. His father worked as a laborer, and his mother was a beautician. He played sports in high school and graduated from St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1976.
“Mom wanted me to go into medicine, but I hated needles, so that ruled out being a doctor, dentist or veterinarian,” he said. “I thought pharmacy would be a good option.”
It also seemed like a no-brainer that Maryville needed a drug store with Anderson Hospital on the way. Collinsville already had six independent pharmacies at the time. The new Ceretto’s building even had a drive-through window.
Gary lived at home then rented Grace and Bill Schiber’s basement in Maryville to be closer to the store, which he manned 78 hours a week.
“He was so young to have his own business,” said Grace, 84. “He worked all the time. His mom would get mad at him when he would go on vacation. He loves to ski, and he would go to Colorado, just for a few days. He always put his customers first.”
Mom wanted me to go into medicine, but I hated needles, so that ruled out being a doctor, dentist or veterinarian. I thought pharmacy would be a good option.
Gary Ceretto on becoming a pharmacist
Gary helped Grace when she mistakenly put glue in her eye instead of eye drops. She helped him start a local Easter egg hunt and pick out Diane’s engagement ring before he proposed at a Cardinals baseball game. (The Cerettos have a daughter, Gina Marie.)
“He’s a big part of this community, and I think that’s why people have stayed with him,” Grace said.
In the past 40 years, Gary has developed a reputation as a respected businessman and citizen, according to Dawn Mushill, director of Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Area Chamber of Commerce. He serves on the Anderson Hospital board.
Ceretto’s has a wall of plaques, including a Drug Enforcement Administration certificate for helping to bust a drug ring in 2003.
In 2006, Gary was the Illinois recipient of the prestigious Wyeth Bowl of Hygeia award from the American Pharmacists Association. Last year, he got a Lifetime Pharmacy Service Award from the Illinois Pharmacists Association.
The local independent pharmacy market has shrank dramatically in the past decade. Prescription Plus closed its Troy location in September and Ashmann’s in Collinsville shut down in December.
“I was talking to (retired Ashmann’s owner Lenny Locus), and he said he used to joke about who would be the last man standing,” Gary said. “‘I guess you won,’ he said.”
Gary could talk for hours about pharmaceutical industry problems — ranging from the creation of claims-processing middlemen to insurance requirements that clients get maintenance drugs by mail — but he’s too busy.
He fields 50 to 60 calls a day, consults with patients at the counter and even delivers medication and medical equipment.
“We’ve had calls in the middle of the night,” said Diane, office manager since 2009. “Especially with hospice patients, Gary will get up and go to the pharmacy and fill a prescription. His work ethic is very high, and he always treats customers with respect and fairness.”