Pharmacists hang on

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Independent stores battle growth of chains

By Amber Fua


As pharmacies around the nation celebrate Pharmacy Week, many Americans have forgotten what it means to have a personal pharmacist.

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With the proliferation of big-box pharmacy stores, the day of the small, local pharmacist can sometimes seem to be long gone.

But in Suffolk there are still at least two independent pharmacies that adhere to what might be considered old-fashioned ways of doing business.

“Everything is mobile,” says Yuen Wong, owner of Super Drug on North Main Street, regarding today’s consumer culture. “No one has to walk in anywhere or communicate. My service is all I have.”

Wong has owned her business for 18 years and has seen changes in the industry during that time. One thing that has not changed, though, is the necessity of providing personal service to her customers.

As Wong talks, a woman walks in and hands her a prescription. Because Wong is the only pharmacist in the store, she knows the customer by name and fills her order within five minutes.

The convenience of mobile apps, drive-thru service, and pre-recorded pick-up voicemails can make such customer service seem quaint, and even Wong recognizes that, for some people, “small town pharmacies are really obsolete these days, because everyone is in a hurry.” But some people still prefer the connection of personable, face-to-face service.

On the other side of Suffolk, at Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy, Chris Jones seems to have embraced the new technologies, while retaining a sense of personal connection with his customers.

Jones has owned and operated the pharmacy for 31 years, 20 of them at his present Bridge Road location.

Jones’ pharmacy has technology to rival that of many large pharmaceutical chains. In fact, the entire pharmacy is surprisingly automated.

Behind the counter is a robot that fills prescriptions. The orders filled by this robot are queued from a mobile app that allows customers to place prescription orders and receive text messages when their orders are ready for pick-up.

As he pulls up the Mobile RX application on his phone, Jones says his pharmacy was “one of the first on the independent side to do texting and call-out features.”

In a nearby compounding room, two women, Cathy and Jenna, make medications for people and pets.

“We even create drugs that go into the ear of cats for thyroid problems,” Jones says.

Even considering all the technology and 21st-century services, Bennett’s Creek has not turned from its main focus — customers.

Whether at the counter or the drive-thru, prescription-holders get quick, friendly service, and that service doesn’t stop at the pharmacy door. Jones also offers personal home delivery and health care services for those who are unable to drive to his location.

Jones says it’s “fulfilling” to be a personal pharmacist, and his employees seem to agree. Many are long-tenure professionals, who “deeply care about customers and patients who walk through the front door,” he says.

If it’s up to Jones and his employees, folks in Suffolk won’t soon forget what it means to have an independent, personal pharmacist, not even once Pharmacy Week is over.