My daughter had an ear infection. A common occurrence in children, so I brought her down to our local doctors office. The doctor took one look at her ear and knew what needed to be done. He wrote out a prescription, gave me a few instructions, and sent me on my way. I then had two choices, I could drive the twenty miles into the city to get her prescription filled by Walgreens, or I could drive seven miles over to the next town to see if the local pharmacy could take care of it. I decided on the shorter trip.
Walking into the pharmacy in the next town I felt a bit like McFly in Back to the Future. The front of the store is segregated by a few short isles of various ointments and creams, heartburn treatment and special insoles for shoes. Towards the center of the store is a small cafe serving soda and malts. The pharmacy is at the back of the store, adorned by relics of its past: an antique cash register, mortar and pestle, weights and scales, and an assortment of glass bottles that once contained the popular medicines of their times.
I walked to the counter and asked the teenager if they could fill the prescription. She looked at the slip and the doctor’s scrawl, asked if I had been there before, and went to ask the advice of the woman in the back. She soon returned and said that it would be just a few moments, and that the other woman was working on the prescription now. I walked around the shop a bit longer, taking note of the blood pressure testing machine and the variety of bandages on the shelf, and was soon called to the counter by the woman who had prepared the medicine.
After I paid the copay, I told her how glad I was that the little pharmacy was there. She smiled, said thank you, and then did something unexpected. She said, that since I have children, and that children sometimes got sick in the middle of the night, that she would give me both her home phone and her cell phone numbers on the back of her business card.
The woman was both the pharmacist and the owner of the little corner store, and the great-granddaughter of the man who opened the store over one hundred years ago. On the drive home I reflected on the choice I had made to visit the small town instead of the city, and it occurred to me what a difference in quality of service there was. Not only was the smaller store closer, I came away with more than expected. I could have easily lost two hours driving to the city, and had little to no interaction with the people mixing the medicine. The transaction could have been dry and remote, but was instead warm and personal. It felt good to know who I was dealing with, that they had a concern for the welfare of my children, and that I was supporting the local community.
Chain stores have increasingly replaced the small town, family owned store, and that is a shame. People stand to gain so much more by shopping locally. I now have the pharmacists home and cell numbers on our family bulletin board at home, and an assurance that I could call anytime, day or night. The personal touch she added to our business today is the essence of personal quality.