The Miami Herald
Wed, Feb. 28, 2007

Castro's sister shuts Miami pharmacy


Juanita Castro's popular community pharmacy in Miami, Mini Price Pharmacy, has closed and the building that housed it is for sale.

Late last year, the CVS Corp. bought out the well-known business -- Castro is prohibited from opening another pharmacy in the area for the next five years as part of the deal -- effectively eliminating all of CVS' competition in the Silver Bluffs neighborhood.

Castro would not discuss details of selling the name Mini Price Pharmacy, long located at 2671 SW 27th Ave.

The exiled sister of Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the time had come to retire, after nearly 35 years of running a business.

''They were the best years of my life, and I spent them working tirelessly to serve this community,'' said Castro, who came to the United States in 1964 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1982.

``I am sad because the pharmacy attracted something like a great family [of customers]. But the struggle became too hard and I needed to rest.''

Castro, 73, drew pointed criticism from some circles last year after her brother ceded power to another sibling, Raúl Castro. The younger Castro sister -- who worked against her brothers in the Cuban underground before leaving the island -- said she felt jubilant street celebrations throughout Miami were inappropriate.

She denied that the criticism prompted her to sell off her pharmacy, or that she planned to leave Miami.

''To me, that criticism hasn't the slightest merit,'' said Castro, who is the fifth of seven siblings in the Castro Ruz family. She is seven years younger than Fidel. Her critics ``are like members of the Rapid Response Brigades, who learned to yell at and harass people [in Cuba] and continue to do so here.''

The Rapid Response Brigades are paramilitary groups used by the Fidel Castro regime to quiet dissidents.

''For two years, I tried to sell it to some small entrepreneur, and I even tried to negotiate with Navarro Discount Pharmacies to try to preserve the pharmacy's identity, but no offer was worth considering,'' she said.

''I'm sorry to see that the big corporations are absorbing the little stores in this country,'' Castro added. ``It is a truly alarming situation.''

The Rhode Island-based CVS Corp. bought out Mini Price in December, said CVS communications director Mike DeAngelis, who also declined to discuss the purchase price.

The store has been dismantled already and the telephone was disconnected.

According to Castro, the agreement with CVS includes the recognition of seniority for Mini Price's 15 employees, some of whom have worked there for more than 20 years. Castro is prohibited from opening another pharmacy in the area for five years as part of the deal, she said. And should she ever want to start a new business, she could not use the name Mini Price Pharmacy.

And now, Castro is selling off the building, including the parking lot. Asking price for the property: $2.5 million.

Founded in 1973, Mini Price Pharmacy operated as a typical neighborhood drugstore where shoppers could buy anything from medicines and cosmetics to porcelain figurines, Spanish-language magazines and recordings of Cuban music. At first, the pharmacy was at 2442 SW 27th Ave., but six years ago it moved two blocks south.

As to her immediate plans, Castro said she'll find something to occupy her time. ``When these days are over and my head has settled, I'll think of a useful project.''