Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Tribute To Phar-Mor, A Company "Phar" Ahead Of It's Time.

Ambition. Greed. Hubris. The inevitable downfall. Millions of dollars of investors and employees money vaporized. Before Enron, before WorldCom, before Martha Stewart was making tastefully colored shank cozies in the federal pen, there was Phar Mor and basketball playing midgets. Today the drugnazi recounts a tale of corporate greed that seems to have found it's way to the moldy backroom of history.

I almost took a job with Phar-Mor when I graduated from college. I was familiar with the place from periodic frat boy expeditions to the local store in search of incredibly cheap crap. Before the spawn of Sam Walton had spread to most of the country, Phar-Mor had mastered the concept of "Stack 'em deep and sell it cheap" Their drugstores were the size of an above average grocery store, packed to the gills with rock-bottom priced shampoo, school supplies, music, videos, dildos, and every type of over the counter medicinal remedy. (I made one thing in that list up, can you tell what it might be?) Their pharmacies were pill pushing sweatshops, but they offered the highest salaries around, which was all I was looking for in an employer at the time. Micky Monus, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the company, was a business genius, building a 300 store empire that offered low prices for customers, high salaries for employees, and profits for investors.

Is anyone's "too good to be true" detector going off yet?

Turns out they offered two out of three. Profits existed only in a fictional set of books kept by Monus and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Finn. Millions of dollars that were being borrowed to finance the chains growth were being used to pay off suppliers in a pyramid scheme that collapsed in 1992. Phar-Mor filed for bankruptcy. Finn was sentenced to 33 months in prison. Monus' first trial ended in a hung jury. Rumors of his alleged mob ties only gained credibility when a juror in that trial admitted he was offered a bribe in exchange for a not guilty vote. Monus was retried, convicted, and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. Phar-Mor went out of business in 2002 and people had to start paying full retail price for dildos once again.

Unlike Kenneth Lay and Bernie Ebbers however, Mickey Monus wasn't fraudulently accumulating dollars just to see how high he could run up his personal scoreboard. He had a plan. He was going to become a titan of the sporting world. He took around 10 million dollars that he pilfered from Phar-Mor and used it to finance The World Basketball League. An organization which, and unlike the part about the dildos I'm not making this up, limited the height of it's players to 6 feet 5 inches.

This is the part that fascinates me. On what possible level was a height-restricted basketball league supposed to work exactly? Was there something about shorter men that was supposed to make me more likely to buy a ticket? Seems to me that the shorter the players, the closer you would have to sit to see the action, thereby limiting the number of good seats available. You couldn't promote it as a way to see the stars of the future, because as tall as a 6 foot 5 person may seem to you and me, Shaq scrapes them off the bottom of his shoes at the end of every day. Yet something about the concept made Monus risk everything to try and make it work.

A friend of mine shoplifted a Nirvana CD during one of those college Phar-Mor shopping expeditions. I feel so not guilty about never turning him in.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

what is pat finn, mickey monus, david shapira, and john anderson doing today. Did they recover from this big mess

drugnazi said...

not a clue....I hear rumors from time to time of a midget soccer league in Sicily though....

Anonymous said...

I did a short stretch of time in Federal Prison with Mickey at FCI Elkton, just south of Youngstown, Ohio. Mickey worked in the education department as a tutor for the GED program and volunteered to teach business classes as well. I took his business class and it was very informative. He was up front about what he did and damn glad that chapter was being closed. He was released in December 2005.

Anonymous said...

I was working at a local Phar-Mor when the scandal became public. As a matter of fact, Phar-Mor was my first job, ever, at the age of 15. We all knew what was going on, but we didn't know the extent of the damage. It was all finally revealed to us October 11th, 1992, when the store manager gathered all the employees at the front of the store, and told us we were closing around Febuary or March. I never will forget that day - there was such a dreary atmosphere at the store that day.. The store was errily quiet, that day. Alot of people handed in their stuff that day, and quit immediately. I stayed until the end. The last day was emotional for everyone left. I loved working there, and I miss that place, dearly. I still have my Phar-mor employee nametag still in my knick-knack drawer in rememberance of what was once a great company to work for.

Monus should've gotten a bigger sentence than he did.

Anonymous said...

I too worked at Phar-Mor...almost to the end..I put in 5 great years there but with what I saw coming had to move on..None the less I still have my name tag too. It was one of the best places I have ever worked, with the best people ever..

Anonymous said...

Phar-Mor was my first job at 16. When I was hired in early 1993, the scandal had just blown up a few months prior and when I was hired I was told that the store I was working at would be staying open. I was there until over two years later when my store was closed in round 2 of closings in the spring/summer of 1995. I made a ton of great friends at Phar-Mor because kids from the various high schools areound town worked there. They always worked with us on our sports and activities schedules and gave us the hours we wanted in the summer. When I started I was a stockboy/cashier, then a video/music cashier, then a front end supervisor towards the end. I loved that job and was sad when our store closed for good in August of 1995... but withing two weeks I moved away to be a freshman in college. A great company with good people (well, at the store level anyhow... obviously there were some shady folks at the corporate office in Ohio) and a good company that gave many people their first job. A shame they kind of faded out with a handful of stores in 2002 and a second bankruptcy filing (that time due to poor sales... not embezzlement... from which it never really recovered) :(

John said...

I was actually indebted to the crooks at Phar Mor, it was my first job out of college and I went from a UNIX Administrator to the Network Operations Manager in 5 years, working with all the best toys and gadgets that dirty money could buy, and I became incredibly marketable! So, I moved to Dallas and started working for Software companies and have been doing it ever since. I am very upset about what happened, especially to all those people working in the stores. It was different at corporate once the story had broke. I was on my way to the airport, going to Atlanta for an IBM class, when my boss called and said "get back here, the doors may be closing at the office". Then after 2 years of working under the shadow of the FBI and auditors, it was time to leave. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.

Anonymous said...

Monus is running a salvage company in Florida, Shapira was President at Giant Eagle when they bought Pharmor.

My dad worked as a pharmacist at Pharmor for 17yrs, eventually became a pharmacy district mgr. before going back to pharmacy mgr. until the end. He always talks about how great the company was and I feel he truly misses the store.

tomasiepants said...

Doooode! I loved Phar Mor. You could rent VHS tapes at 3 for 99cents. Most of the "good/status quo" movies were taken. Personally, I was into the z-grade Hollywood films. Then they went out of business, I made sure to stock up on all the Full Moon entertainment releases. If it was a crap movie, they had it! I also remember buying cassette tapes/CDs for cheap. Man I miss that place. Still remember their jingle..."Power buying saves you... Phar mor!" By the way, the savings on their dildos were so deep they put yer butt to sleep.

Anonymous said...

Would love to know what Pat Finn is up to these days.