Pharmacies were once known for their soda fountains, with customers enjoying a cherry coke or root beer while they waited, catching up with neighbors, reading the paper or just taking a breather from their day.
While you don’t see them that much today, there are still some pharmacies that add a coffee shop or small restaurant to their business model, evoking memories of that simpler time gone by. Not only do food and drink offerings please people, they often give them reason to come back and become regular customers of the pharmacy.
Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD, started as a simple pharmacy in 1931, but transformed into a major tourist attraction thanks to the forward thinking of original owners Ted and Dorothy Hustead. The drug store started offering free water and 5 cent coffee to travelers on their way to Mount Rushmore, and soon the store added a souvenir shop and restaurant. Over time, the store expanded to more than 76,000 square feet and added other attractions such as an art gallery, mall, and kid’s park.
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Today, under the ownership of their grandson Rick Hustead, more than two million visitors come into town to see the historic pharmacy, grab a bite to eat and a cup of coffee—still for just a nickel.
It’s a business model that has been replicated by many pharmacies over the years.
A Tasty Treat
Tim’s Pharmacy in Yelm, WA, celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer. For most of that century, it’s offered some sort of refreshments. The latest offering is a combination coffee shop and ice cream parlor called Holy Grounds, which opened in March of 2011.
The pharmacy is now owned by the Quinby family, who purchased the operation last November. One of the main draws of the business was the Holy Grounds parlor.
“Many customers enjoy the nostalgia. They remember a time when their local pharmacy had a soda fountain and ice cream, and that helps to bring people in,” says Will Quinby, pharmacist and co-owner of Tim’s Pharmacy. “For some of our younger customers, they enjoy the idea of a classic pharmacy with a soda-fountain. We also make a point to serve high-quality coffee and ice-cream at a good price.”
The Quinby family sees the coffee shop as a “service asset,” and look for opportunities to serve their customers in unique ways that the other pharmacies are unable to match. For instance, it offers made-to-order lattes and coffee, ice cream, milkshakes, and a limited number of food items such as pre-made sandwiches, pretzels, and cookies.
“We have many customers who enjoy the uniqueness of Holy Grounds,” Quinby says. “We offer higher-end coffee and ice cream, so our customers know they are receiving high-quality at a good value.”
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One of the secrets to success, he shares, is that it’s imperative to have employees who understand their role in the coffee shop.
“They must be friendly and approachable. It is very useful to have coffee employees with outgoing personalities that can help recognize service opportunities,” Quinby says. “It is also beneficial to find ways to keep those coffee employees busy throughout the day doing other tasks, but visibly ‘available’ to serve customers in the coffee shop.”
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