Independent Pharmacy in Wisconsin Celebrates 150 Years of Helping the Community

Ribbon cutting at Freeman Drug 150-year celebration

Above: Co-owner and head pharmacist, Leah Gavin, stands front and center during the ribbon cutting at the official 150-year anniversary celebration for Freeman Drug in River Falls, Wisconsin.


Freeman Drug of River Falls, Wisconsin, is celebrating 150 years in business this fall. They just hosted a special community event to spotlight this impressive milestone.

Co-owner and head pharmacist, Leah Gavin, credits her staff and her pharmacy’s community focus for its long-term success.

“At our core, we’re a family pharmacy. We know our customers and we treat them like guests coming into our house,” Gavin said. “We don’t stock any trinkets. Outside of some candy, cards, and magazines, we are strictly a pharmacy focusing on patient healthcare.”

The pharmacy offers solutions for a wide range of health needs. Patients can get help selecting durable medical goods, ostomy supplies, compression garments, orthopedic shoes, blood glucose and blood monitoring strips, as well as services like compounding, home delivery, pill packing for long term care facilities and, of course, vaccinations.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team at Freeman worked with their community to ensure the people of River Falls had the support they needed to stay healthy.

“We had lots of people, volunteers who helped people register, fill out forms, and nurses to help us administer the (COVID-19) shots. We did well over 5,000 vaccinations,” Gavin said.

The local college, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, let the pharmacy use empty rooms for vaccination space to accommodate more people. For younger patients getting vaccinations, the local library provided children’s books to help salve any fears of getting a shot.

“The community was very supportive of our efforts, sending us cookies, thank you notes, and a big party for the volunteers thrown by community,” Gavin said.

As a longstanding customer since the 1960s, and a Health Mart pharmacy since 2012, Freeman Drug has built a solid relationship with McKesson.

McKesson has partnered with Freeman Drug to help support Pierce & St. Croix Co., Free Clinic to fill 40 to as many as 90 prescriptions nightly.

“In 2008, one of our local doctors and his wife established a free clinic and they asked if I would manage the pharmacy. I agreed because I believe we really need to help people. I got an old computer, then McKesson gave us (the pharmacy management) program for $100 a month. So, we were able to buy from McKesson and sell to the clinic at cost,” Gavin said.

As a Health Mart pharmacy, Freeman Drug depends on helpful services like monthly performance reports, branding and marketing programs, services that assist with insurance billing and other business needs.

“If an issue arises, like stock availability or pricing issues, I always get results when I provide my feedback to my rep,” Gavin said.

Left to right, McKesson representatives, Vice President Pharmacy Retail Operations Suzanne Feeney, Vice President, Field Sales Andy Steichen, Pharmacy Sales Consultant Thomas Gleeson award co-owner and head pharmacist, Leah Gavin, and her son Ben with a special crystal award to mark her business’ 150-year anniversary.

“We’re proud of the work Freeman Drug continues to do for the well-being of the community in River Falls. We hope our continued partnership will help Freeman Drug well into the future, maybe another 150 years!” said Andy Steichen, McKesson vice president of field sales. “Leah is a one-of-a-kind owner who always goes above and beyond to help service her patients.”

In the community, Freeman Drug competes with a couple of national chain stores. However, Gavin said that the larger shops have, “…rules and pricing so high, they don’t cater to the customer; they are so busy they don’t care for the patient.” Because her pharmacy is focused on providing a much better experience, she said Freeman Drug regularly gets a lot of converts from those bigger chains.

A brief history of Freeman Drug

Vice President Pharmacy of Retail Operations Suzanne Fenney and Freeman Drug co-owner and head pharmacist Leah Gavin look over the pharmacy’s prescription book from the 1890s.

In the fall of 1872, pharmacist Roscius Freeman opened Freeman’s Drug Store. He successfully operated and grew his business and eventually shared the business with his son, Rosh Freeman who also became a pharmacist. They operated as R.S. Freeman & Son, until Roscius passed away and Rosh took over management of the operation and continued to grow the business through various partnerships.

Gavin’s father became a partner in the business with Rosh in 1962, and she started working as a clerk in the store in 1965. After Rosh passed away in 1969, Gavin went on to pharmacy school. She returned in the mid-1980s to work at the shop and eventually joined a partner to purchase Freeman Drug.

Circa early 1900s, Main Street, River Falls, Wisconsin.