Honoring a Pharmacy’s History While Updating It
How a new owner is preserving a pharmacy’s legacy while creating a modern store
Madison Apothecary is believed to be the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in Indiana, in business since at least the 1880s. Since 2006, Erik and Jennifer Grove have kept it thriving.
When the Groves bought the pharmacy with Jennifer’s father, they chose to revamp the building, taking it from its 1970s-era remodel to match more closely the pharmacy storefront from a photo taken in 1882. The previous owner had started working in the pharmacy in the 1950s and passed along to the Groves a folder of historic information about the business, including photos, newspaper clippings and licenses.
Their decision to honor the past was in line with a larger trend to restore historic buildings in downtown Madison. In fact, in 2006 more than 130 blocks in the town’s historic district earned the designation as America’s largest contiguous National Historic Landmark.
Based on the Groves’ experience, the following are ideas any pharmacist considering buying an historic pharmacy should keep in mind.
Start with the Past
- Research the history. If the previous owners haven’t maintained an archive for the business, still learn what you can about its roots. Start by talking with long-term staff and customers to discover what they may know to unearth some hints about the business’s history. The local newspaper, library or historic preservation group may have photos or facts about the business. That can guide you in remodeling and marketing the business.
- Take a wide view of what is historic. In addition to being the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in the state, Madison Apothecary holds a liquor license that was first issued before Prohibition. Historic preservation experts currently are trying to save a pharmacy building in Tennessee that features Art Moderne architecture from 1961 and one of the country’s first drive-through windows, which was installed in 1951.
- Tap into preservation expertise. The Groves must apply for and get approval from several city committees for any changes to the exterior of Madison Apothecary because it is in the city’s historic district. That process originally took up to two months to navigate, but now Erik Grove said he can complete it in as little as two weeks. To learn what to include in his applications, he consulted people in town in the building business who had worked often with these committees.
Add Your Own Touch
- Choose what to keep and what to change. The Groves revised the exterior of the building, taking it back to the 19th century, but brought the technology inside up to the 21st century with new software and automation. When they peeled back the carpet inside, they discovered the wood floors below weren’t worth salvaging, so they installed ceramic tile instead.
- Tie the new to the old. The store’s liquor license allowed Erik Grove to build on his personal interest in wine. “I decided that was going to be my hobby and part of the business,” he explained. Today he’s both a pharmacist and a certified sommelier who can help customers with their selections from a section of the business that features more than 500 wines. Although that part of the business doesn’t generate as much revenue as the pharmacy, “it draws in a lot of people who wouldn’t typically come in for prescriptions and they remember us next time they need a prescription or medical equipment,” Grove said. Madison Apothecary hosts regular wine tastings as part of the town’s Fourth Friday Art Jams, which draw people into the historic area.
- Leverage the legacy in branding and marketing. Madison Apothecary features the slogan “A Modern-Day Pharmacy with Old-Fashioned Values” in its marketing. Grove carries that idea through in training staff members to treat customers like they would their parents or grandparents.
If you are interested in buying a pharmacy, check out the free resources available through RxOwnership®.
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