It can be challenging to see profit in neighborhoods like this one. Scruffy-looking men huddle at the bus stop. Plastic bags blow along the sidewalk. The rental houses and small retail buildings need paint. The pedestrians may not look prosperous, but many local businesses in inner-city Richmond are thriving. Until 2006, Edloe's Professional Pharmacy was one of them, producing record profits for Leonard Edloe and his father before him - so much so that Edloe's became, Leonard reckons, one of the largest independent African-American-owned pharmacies in the country. But in the past few years both the neighborhood and the pharmaceutical industry have changed radically, and Edloe is losing money trying to keep up.
A tall, soft-spoken man with a grandfatherly white beard, Edloe decided in third grade that he would take over the pharmacy business that his father had bought in 1945. "When I graduated from Howard in 1970, I had three job offers," he remembers, "one for $30,000, one for $20,000 - and I went to work for my daddy for $6,000." His father died in 1972. In 1974, Edloe moved the store into a medical building two blocks away on 25th Street and eventually opened two other stores nearby, although only the original one carries his name.
Edloe needs help in three main areas. Sales from his three locations are a satisfactory $4.5 million a year, he says, "but I need a better mix of revenues." On pharmacy sales, the bulk of his business, Edloe's profit margins have dropped to 6 percent from 20 percent because of cuts in Medicare reimbursements, so he needs to diversify his product line. Also, he says, "I need help transitioning from my old clientele to the new crowd moving into the area." And finally, at age 59, Edloe is looking for an exit strategy. "My father came home one day, sat in his chair, and had a heart attack," he says. "I don't want to be like my father, to come home from work one day and die." Edloe wants more free time to teach pharmacy classes at nearby Virginia Commonwealth University and to preach at his Baptist church.