A drug store with an authentic, working vintage soda fountain is rare. A drug store with a vintage soda fountain where the pharmacy is nonprofit? Unheard of . . . until Lost and Found Pharmacy opened its doors last week in Penn Hills.
Owned by pharmacists Shannon Parsons and her husband Sean Parsons, Lost and Found is a pharmacy with a mission— to help those who have difficulty paying for medications and to bring the joy and nostalgia of a traditional soda fountain.
The soda fountain is a Southern belle with a storied past, a 1924 model with a sinuous serpentine curved counter from the (now demolished) Hotel Charlotte in North Carolina, which for decades was considered the city’s finest. “The hotel had a music studio in it and lots of famous people recorded there, then would go downstairs to have ice cream at the soda fountain,” Shannon says. “Elvis Presley actually sat at our counter and so did Babe Ruth and Richard Nixon.”
So far, banana splits are Lost and Found’s most popular item, she says, mostly because they can be customized any way the customer wants. The soda fountain’s six pumps allow for a variety of syrup flavors, and they’ll use the three fountain heads for old-fashioned treats like vanilla, cherry or chocolate Coke, phosphates, and egg creams. The last item contains no eggs nor cream. “It’s just flavored soda and milk, but it’s amazing, especially the chocolate.”
The Parsons have decided on Hershey’s ice cream for Lost and Found’s soda fountain, not only because Shannon considers it “the best ice cream on the planet,” but because they’re making an effort to use local products, and she was surprised to find out that Hershey’s ice cream is made only 25 miles south of Pittsburgh.
The most important feature of the soda fountain (and the penny candy, greeting cards, common drug store items, and other products sold) is that all the profits go to the nonprofit pharmacy’s financial aid fund, which is designed to help those who can’t afford medications. Typically this is because the customer does not have prescription drug insurance or falls into the “Medicare gap,” which is a gap between Medicare’s initial coverage and its “catastrophic coverage.”
“We are subsidizing their cost while they are in the gap,” Shannon explains. “So the cost is still there, which is an important point, but we are paying it for them.” Penn Hills has a large senior population, and the Medicare gap is a period when many people simply can’t afford their medications, Shannon says.
Lost and Found Pharmacy is open to anyone and currently accepts UPMC and Highmark insurance, though they plan to accept all major insurance. “Our prescriptions are cheaper than any other pharmacy in the area because we don’t, and are not allowed to, charge a markup,” Shannon says. “Customers who can afford it pay the cost of the medication and a very small dispensing fee, which we need to charge in order to keep our doors open. It covers the cost of labor, the packaging, the electricity, that sort of thing,” Shannon says.
Those who have insurance can pay either the co-pay or the cost of the medication plus the dispensing fee, whichever is less. This system also offers a way for people to support Lost and Found Pharmacy. “Let’s say your copay is $10 but the cost before markup is $2,” Shannon explains. “You can offer to pay your normal $10 copay, and we’ll give you a receipt showing the difference as a donation, which is tax-deductible.”
Services are a key element of Lost and Found Pharmacy, including educational seminars on health-related topics like diabetes, nutrition, and high blood pressure. “One of the things we are really big on is patient counseling and individualized monitoring of medications,” Shannon says. At most pharmacies, people are asked if they want to talk with the pharmacist, and it’s usually an automatic “no.”
Not so fast at Lost and Found. “We have a policy that if it’s a new prescription, you’re required to sit down with the pharmacist for at least five minutes and the pharmacist will go over drug interactions, side effects, when you can expect the medication to start working, etc.”
Shannon and Sean Parsons met 10 years ago while working in the IV room at UPMC Presbyterian. It was on a date at a Rt. 30 diner that the idea for Lost and Found Pharmacy was born. “I said to Sean, ‘wouldn’t it be really cool if someday we opened up a soda fountain pharmacy that would be a nonprofit so we could really help people?’ and he’s the one who really ran with the idea,” Shannon remembers. “We wanted to help people as an extension of our faith, which is really where the motivation comes from.”
The name “Lost and Found Pharmacy” has a double meaning for the Parsons. For one, it’s from the song “Amazing Grace,” and two, it’s a reference to the soda fountain itself. “The soda fountain pharmacy is basically gone, but we brought it back, especially with a real vintage soda fountain,” Shannon says. “It’s a lost part of Americana, but people can find it here.”
Lost and Found Pharmacy is located at 11555 Frankstown Rd, just off Rodi Road in Penn Hills.