At Winchester Drug, It's All About Customers

With careful attention to customers' needs, Winchester Drug has cultivated a loyal following, but still finds itself struggling to hang on.

On a recent weekday afternoon, is quiet for a moment. The store seems to have been frozen in time decades ago, with its small scale and its wood-paneled back wall spelling out "pharmacy" in '50s-style script.

Then, just when pharmacy manager and tech Syd Anderson thinks there’s a lull, she is suddenly called to the phone. Customers trickle in steadily and wait until she’s off her call. Anderson greets each one by name, retrieving prescriptions for one customer, checking insurance coverage for another whose plan has changed.

Anderson has worked at the store for 44 years. When she was 15-years-old, she started out working at the soda counter, back when Winchester Drug was located down the street. The soda counter closed by the late '60s, but Anderson kept on. In the 1980s, she said, the store moved into its current location, when it bought out another drug store.

Now, Winchester Drug finds itself competing with chain stores that can undercut prices. So the local pharmacy has to set itself apart in other ways in order to win and keep customers.

“It’s trying to keep them happy and do things quick and not make them wait,” Anderson said. Customers choose Winchester Drug, she added, because they will do things like deliver prescriptions right to your car.

"They know we’ll go out there with the kids in the car. Older people who park in handicapped spots, we’ll come out," Anderson said. “It’s all customer service.”

In addition to this curbside delivery, Winchester Drug offers traditional home delivery service five days a week within Winchester and a small section of Medford.

Anderson said Winchester Drug stocks everything found in larger stores, but usually with a smaller selection. The drug store also carries gift items, handbags, candy, cards and stuffed animals.

“If we don’t have it, we can get it the next day,” Anderson said.

To make things more comfortable for customers waiting for prescriptions, there are two armchairs by the pharmacy counter. Between them sits a table stacked with magazines.

“We have a very loyal following. Thank God, our customers are very loyal to us,” Anderson said, adding, “We go out of our way in trying to keep them.”

When asked why she has stayed at Winchester Drug since her teens, Anderson shrugged. “It just fell into place. A pharmacy changes so much. It’s not like I’ve had the same job all these years,” she said.

Among the changes she's seen are electronic prescriptions and enormous shifts in insurance. A few years ago, the store had to face an even bigger challenge when its owner, who had been the pharmacist, died. His wife now owns the store, but works as a nurse in Cambridge. Winchester Drug has had to hire pharmacists.

In order for an independent drug store to survive, Anderson explained, the owner usually works as the pharmacist. “That’s how they keep on,” she said. “Now, we have to pay the hours.”

Anderson excuses herself to talk with a customer, asking, “How’s your mom?”

She tells another, “It’s not in yet. Tylenol’s having trouble at their plant in Puerto Rico.”

The future seems uncertain for Winchester Drug but, in the meantime, Anderson said the store will keep on going: “Just do what we do best. Try to keep [the customers] and just hang on as long as we can.”


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