Pharmacy celebrates 25th year

Published 8:28 pm Monday, June 21, 2010

It was 25 years ago that pharmacist Chris Jones — only 27 years old and three years out of pharmacy school — set out on his own in the business world.

“I was young and didn’t have good sense,” Jones joked recently. “I thought I could make it. You really don’t stop and think about it.”

The first day of Jones’ start-up, one-man operation was June 24, 1985 in a tiny space on U.S. Route 17. He filled three prescriptions for diuretics and sold a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.

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“I said, ‘What have I done?’” Jones recalled recently. “When I opened up, I was told I wouldn’t last six months. I questioned whether I’d made the right move.”

A quarter-century later, Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy and its 22 employees are preparing to celebrate the store’s 25th anniversary on Thursday with cake and special deals for customers. However, Jones isn’t forgetting what it took to get to where he is. Not only does the staff still provide consistent customer service, but Jones still has a copy of that receipt for three prescriptions and a bottle of shampoo.

Jones grew up in his father’s Chuckatuck pharmacy and attended pharmacy school at the Medical College of Virginia. While there, he and a classmate had to complete a project that required them to envision what their own pharmacy would look like.

“Little did I know that college project would turn into a real business that would last 25 years,” Jones said.

With his father’s pharmacy still operating in Chuckatuck, Jones returned home from school and worked as a fill-in for other area pharmacists. He then heard about space available in a building in the Bennett’s Creek area, and decided to take a chance.

“Back then, there was absolutely nothing here,” he said.

Jones worked by himself the first couple of months, and then hired a high-school student to work the cash register. The next year, he was first elected to Suffolk City Council, and he enlisted a college classmate to fill in while he was downtown for meetings.

“After I finished my first year, I knew I was going to make it,” Jones said.

In 1995, the booming business moved down the street to its current location, and then it expanded in 1998, the same year Jones took office in the Virginia General Assembly. The shop was one of the first pharmacies in the area to offer a drive-through window.

Even though it is increasingly surrounded by chain pharmacies and supermarkets that offer pharmacy services, Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy has remained on the cutting edge of both technology and customer service.

The business offers pain management and hormone replacement therapy services, vaccinations and custom compounding services for both humans and domestic animals — a service that recently came in handy when a thyroid medication was unavailable from the manufacturer.

“We were able to compound that and provide it for the patients that needed it,” Jones said.

In technology, too, the store has been a leader. It was one of the first in the area to offer an automated refill phone system, and also among the first to get a “robot” that automatically fills the store’s most common prescriptions.

The business also has expanded to cover the whole city, though few realize it. The pharmacy stocks the emergency, radiology and occupational medicine departments at the Sentara BelleHarbour facility down the street, and also provides drugs and IV supplies for Suffolk’s emergency medical services.

“It’s been a good partnership,” Jones said.

But it is the staff at the store that really shines.

“The biggest asset I have is my employees,” Jones says, joking that “things run smoother when I’m in Richmond.”

Indeed, the store has some long-tenured employees. Store manager Rana Weaver started working there when she was in high school. That was 21 years ago.

“It’s been a very good place to work,” Weaver said. “Chris is a great boss.”

Weaver said the store’s service is what keeps people coming back — and passing half a dozen other pharmacies on the way.

“I think that it’s the hometown, community, customer-service atmosphere,” she said. “People want to go somewhere and deal with businesses where people know them, where people treat them well, where they feel comfortable, and they get that here.”

Besides its medicinal offerings, the store also is known for unique gifts, jewelry, local art, custom girls’ dresses and more. Jones hopes the pharmacy will be around another 25 years.

“The good Lord has blessed us,” he said. “I’ve always tried to provide the level of service I did from the beginning. I’m very appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had.”