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Change comes, gradually, to the old Remington Drug Store

Monday, Aug. 3 | By James Ivancic
Wilbur Heflin (left) is turning over Remington Drug Store to Travis Hale and Al Roberts, who are already familiar to customers since they are pharmacists there. Fauquier Times Photo/Randy Litzinger
There's something different about the Remington Drug Store these days, but not in a way that should upset longtime customers of the Main Street store.

Glass cases still line the walls, but modern shelving has replaced the old cases in the center section of the 1,500 sq. ft. store so that there's more display space.

The soda fountain remains, offering ice cream lovers and coffee drinkers alike a stool at the counter for a beverage, shake or cone to go. Coffee goes 25 cents per cup for counter sitters, 30 cents for take-out.

The pharmacists and staff are also delivering the personal service that customers like Suzi Smith appreciates.

“I've been a customer for at least 15 years,” she said as she stopped to talk after picking up a prescription.

She lives in Rappahannock County and willingly makes the 45- to 50-minute drive to Remington rather then go elsewhere. Her son's eye doctor is in Manassas, so long health-related trips are part of her life.

“The staff here is phenomenal. Al will say, 'you need to do this, this one doesn't have a refill and you need to make a doctor's appointment,'” Smith said, referring to Al Roberts, the pharmacists' supervisor.

Roberts worked at Rhodes Drug Store in Warrenton for 28 years before it closed in 2005. He then moved to the Remington store.

Smith said prescriptions are usually ready when she's told to expect them. “I've had to wait twice in 15 years. When you're sick, you really don't want to wait.”

Roberts and pharmacist Travis Hale are buying drug store from Wilbur Heflin, ending a family connection that goes back more than a century.

“The store was founded in 1913 by my great-uncle, William Walden Ashby. He had it until he died in the flu epidemic of 1918,” Heflin said during an interview next to the soda fountain counter as staff attended to customers.

Heflin's been coming to the store since he was 5 and expects to continue to do so, though as a customer rather than owner, once the deal goes through later this year. Heflin lives just a mile away.

When the great uncle who founded the drug store died, his brother Evan took over and ran it for decades. “He was here until I bought the store in 1972,” said Heflin.

The store basically stayed the same in its layout except for the reception area and soda fountain being moved. The fountain and counter used to be up front, offering those seated a window to the goings on in the small town.

“We had glass cases in the middle” until the changes that got underway two weeks ago. The new middle shelves were filled with products by the Saturday of that week.

The store's Facebook page has a photo of what the store's interior looked like around 1941. Customers have been supplying remembrances of visits to the store through the years.

Any change is bound to create a stir and nervousness among those who find comfort in the familiar.

“The first person to arrive asked, 'what are you doing?'” said Roberts. “We're just making cosmetic changes,” was his reassuring response.

Generally, people seem OK with they're doing, he said. “We want to revitalize and bring in new things and to more efficiently display things.”

Customers can now take what they need on the shelves in the glass cases that remain.

“We're making it more self-service,” said Heflin. “People now can help themselves. Back in the old days they were served.”

But more personal service will be available to those filling prescriptions.

“We'd like to do more counseling,” Roberts said, referring to the one-on-one consultations pharmacists provide to customers about their medications. An area that's more private is being set up.

The new owners also want to sell more environmentally friendly products. They are now selling scented candles made by a husband and wife in Culpeper.

Remington Drug Store also sells vitamins, acne medications,antacid, toothpaste and mouthwash, therapeutic footwear, soap, wipes, napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, cleansers, plastic utensils, watches and a small children's section of toys, among other items that aren't strictly medicinal, but are of the sort found in today's drug stores.

Besides its Facebook and website presence, Remington Drug Store has a mobile app that lets customers refill prescriptions, receive health news alerts and medication information, and call the pharmacy. The new partners are looking into offering home delivery as an added service.

“The social media opens things up for us. No so much for the bottom line but since [Heflin] put up the website a couple years ago it's been an information source,” said Hale, the younger member of the partnership.

Competition from chain stores, mergers, insurance and government regulations present a challenge to an independent operation like the one in Remington.

“We're at the end of the chain. Our pries are fixed. If costs increase we don't get to increase the cost of medications,” said Hale.

“There are a lot of new requirements like track and trade related to drug safety from the time it leaves the manufacturer to the middle man to the pharmacy and even down to the customer at the unit level,” he said.
"“There's a data storage component. Who's going to manage it? And storage is not cheap.”

Still, “if we keep doing what we do best we'll be just fine,”

Surprise from the past

Though the present and future pose challenges, the renovation upheaval inside Remington Drug Store uncovered some surprises from the past.

Some items from bygone times found include a women's monthly magazine issue from 1876, old razor blades, a bottle of elixir, and a bill of sale from 1925. The owners plan to display some of the treasures.
Remington Drug Store, 207 E. Main St., is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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