Polish Businesses Clash With State Over Medications

Feb 21, 2012

New Britain is home to a thriving Polish community, and the stores along the city’s Broad Street are at its heart. Some goods and services in these shops, including medicines, are sold or delivered in the Polish language – a fact that’s recently brought store owners into conflict with state officials. WNPR’s Sarah Miner reports.

This is Roly Poly Bakery in New Britain. A vibrant Polish marketplace that sells everything from paczkis to purses. 

Recently, the Bakery was one of four Polish markets in the Broad Street shopping area, along with Zeleniak Grocery, PolMart and NB Marketplace that were visited by the Department of Consumer Protection and the Drug Control Division after an anonymous source told the DCP that allegedly these stores were selling mislabeled medications. 

“They came in out of the blue, no notification”

That's Peter Ludwiszewski owner of Roly Poly Bakery.

“They didn't seem to want to cooperate and work with us. Just basically take the product, take it out of the store and that’s the end of it. It's a Connecticut state agency and we're a Connecticut business, and sometimes we feel we need to work together with these kind of issues.”

The Department of Consumer Protection says store owners were selling prescription medications with a proper permit and some medications were mislabeled. Ludwiszewski says it was explained to him this way.

“Let's say something was labeled on the polish side, as an example Menthol, 10 grams - on the English side it was Menthol - but they didn't carry over the 10 grams. And that seems to have been the majority of the problem.”

However, the store owners say the loss of some of these items was a big deal for their Polish customers.

“We literally have elderly ladies come in and cry because they can't get something they feel they need. And they’re comfortable with this product because it’s something that they’ve been using for years back in Europe and they have access to it over here.”

By law, the store owners must also possess the proper permits that allow for the sale of prescription medications, a law that NB Marketplace owner Marek Izydorczak says it is his obligation as a store owner to understand.

“It's my responsibility to know which license I should have. It works both ways and they were nice. The guilt is on our side too, it's not just the state.”

William Rubenstein is the Commissioner of Department of Consumer Protection. He says his investigation team was enforcing an important law.

“The inspections were done in a very professional and courteous way. There was a dialogue with each of the store owners about what we were doing, what products they could retain off-sale until they got the right permit, which ones needed to be removed from sale completely. We have a responsibility to make sure the products being sold in these stores are safe, and appropriate and lawful.”

However, the commissioner and the store owners are in agreement about one thing.

“The real culprit here ultimately is the distributor of these products. In some sense the distributor should have known better, that these products should not have been sold through these retail outlets. We would certainly work with the retailers to seek appropriate recourse from the distributors.”

“New Britain has had some tough knocks over the past few decades and Broad Street is a thriving gem in our community. We take it seriously when there’s a concern that there might be harm to that.”

New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien says the city was told ahead of time that the enforcement action would be taken by the Department of Consumer Protection, but the communication took place at a low level, and his office was not informed.

“This is something that really our city health department, within their sphere of responsibility, should be intimately involved in because of the local issues that they can help navigate through. Had that kind of interaction been taking place, instead of operating in silos, if local and state officials had been working intimately together, we would have been able to navigate through this situation in a way that’s better.”

 The DCP says the health and safety of the community are its top priorities. Store owners and town officials say they hope that clearer guidelines in future will make that easier for everyone.

For WNPR, I'm Sarah Miner.