It was a few decades ago when the newspaper writer called me. He was writing a story about family businesses and what with three generations of pharmacists, ours seemed perfect to write about. I was working at an ad agency. “How about it. Did you ever think of becoming a pharmacist?,” he asked. Silence. Me? Was he really asking me? “Nope. It’s just not my thing.”, I offered.
I had grown up working with my Dad, Jesse Junior, at the drug store. He hired me at the age of twelve. Fifty cents an hour. I practiced making change on an electronic cash register he brought home until I could do it perfectly every time. Even today, I can feel the starched white uniform and remember the conversations when our regular customers stopped in. Little things like helping to find the perfect anniversary card just made me feel good. Those were sweet times.
In the process there were lots of lessons. Lessons about accuracy, integrity, helping someone that was short on luck and cash. But no, the pharmacy business wasn’t for me. “It’s just not my thing,” I had said. But that wasn’t the whole story. It really all came down to the fact that I was a chicken. Afraid of all the chemistry and math classes that were between here and there. I was afraid I couldn’t do it.
A few years and a few changes in life later, Dad said he could really use some help managing the front of the store. I jumped at the chance. Within a few weeks, all the warm feelings from being in the drug store came back. I picked right up with customers I’d known my whole life as if I never left. It was the people! I loved them. All of them. And some of them really needed us. When I watched Dad able to provide comfort or give just the right piece of advice, I was so proud of him. I really wished I had chosen to become a pharmacist.
I enrolled in one biology night class at the community college without telling a soul. Then another. And another. Finally, with a few good grades behind me, I had the confidence to say it aloud. I told my Dad, then Mom. I wanted to be a pharmacist and was going back to school. There were big smiles, lots of hugs and a few laughs.
Why the laughs? Well, it turns out I wasn’t the first person in the family to say they didn’t want to be a pharmacist “like my dad”. See, going way back, Joseph William Pike, my great-grandfather, bought the Pearl Drug company on Church Street in Concord. It was 1919. Joseph’s sons, including Jesse Senior, my granddad, lived over the store and worked with their dad. The boys went to college and both became pharmacists. Joseph Pike passed away in 1935 and his sons operated the store. When World War II came along, both of them volunteered for their country and joined the Navy. There was nobody left behind to operate the store and it was sold.
When Jesse Senior returned home from the war, his first order of business was building a new pharmacy. It was also on Church Street, not too far from Pearl Drug. He called it Pike’s and the tradition took a turn. After that first store, he added several more. First on South Union Street in Concord, then in Locust, Oakboro, Charlotte and Kannapolis. Jesse Senior’s son, Jesse Junior, was by his side, spending his days growing up in the drug store. When it was time for Jesse Junior to go to college, he decided the pharmacy business just wasn’t for him. He had taken an interest in radio, working to get his ham license at a very young age. Nope. No pharmacy for him. He had seen enough. In 1967, he graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with his degree in Radio, TV and Motion Pictures. It had been a hard four years. He ran between classes and several different radio and television stations doing morning and night shifts. It had about worn him out.
Thinking he needed a break from the late nights and long days of radio, he called his Dad, Jesse Senior. He told his Dad that after much thought, what he would really like was to come home and help him manage his drug stores. Jesse Senior, always kind, refined and with that southern drawl of his said, “I don’t need a manager, Son. What I need is a pharmacist.” Jesse Junior swallowed hard and marched across campus, enrolling right away in the School of Pharmacy. He graduated with his second degree, this time in pharmacy, in 1971. Better late than never.
You can see why the laughs came when I made my announcement. I wanted to be a pharmacist. Better late than never.
The process took quite awhile. I worked full time and raised a daughter while getting through the prerequisite classes one at a time and then pharmacy school. It was nearly eleven years from beginning to end. I graduated from Wingate University School of Pharmacy in 2008. Best decision ever. I love working as a pharmacist and there is no doubt that Pike’s Pharmacy is where I belong.
There are big shoes to fill around here and every day I hit the door and am reminded why I love this business. Jesse Senior with his professionalism and nit-pickyness is always on my mind. I can’t put ointment in a jar without hearing his voice. The top of it should be just so, like a Dairy Queen curlicue. Jesse Junior is still here working with me every day, a kind, gentle, even-handed constant. Their influence and guidance has been a gift. The folks that work with us are family, too. From Danielle and Ana to Elena…many of them have been with us for years. There’s a good reason why. We make a pretty good team. A mostly happy, sometimes dysfunctional, just-like-family team. And our patients, our customers, are family, too. We know most by name. We’ve known their parents and grandparents and watched them grow up. As strange as it sounds, our pharmacy’s neighborhood is part of the family as well. It’s like the neighborhood you grew up in, familiar and comforting with all its successes and challenges.
I stand corrected. Pharmacy is my thing. Pike’s Pharmacy is our thing. It’s unlike any other pharmacy you’ve visited. It’s where we want to be every day. We hope you’ll come visit and become part of the family, too. Come get unCHAINED at Pike’s.