BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — Eugene Applebaum, the founder of Michigan pharmacy chain Arbor Drugs, passed away at his home here on Friday at age 81.
After earning a pharmacy degree at Wayne State University, Applebaum entered the drug store business in 1963 with the opening of one store, Civic Drugs, in Dearborn, Mich. In 1974, he and Bruno Manni combined five stores and incorporated them under the Arbor Drugs banner.
The company went public in 1986 on the Nasdaq exchange. Over the years, the Arbor chain expanded via new store openings and acquisitions, including the Cunnigham chain in 1981, Sentry Drugs in 1986 and M&R in 1994.
Applebaum focused Troy, Mich.-based Arbor’s business primarily on sales of prescription drugs and personal care products. As the company grew in the 1980s, it highlighted pharmacy service by positioning the prescription counter in the center at the back end of a wide aisle so it was clearly visible to customers entering its stores. In addition, the pharmacy counter was also open, not glassed in, so the pharmacist was more accessible to customers.
And in 1979, Arbor was one of the first drug store retailers to offer computerized prescriptions, and records for the whole chain were linked by 1989.
Arbor grew into the nation’s eighth-largest drug chain by 1997, with 208 stores in southeastern Michigan and total sales of $962.8 million. But in 1998, Arbor was acquired by CVS Corp. in a $1.48 billion deal, which at the time created the largest U.S. drug chain.
A philanthropist, Applebaum donated millions of dollars to health care education and jobs and to cancer research.
In 1998, he contributed the largest individual gift in the history of Wayne State University, which helped fund construction of a new health education facility, including the pharmacy school. Previously named the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences building opened in 2002.