Brenda and Charles Epps want Appomattox Drugs to be known as “the pharmacy where the pharmacist knows your name.” Newly opened in October, Appomattox Drugs has all the charm of the Ettrick Post Office which once resided in its building. Nostalgic not only in its décor which dates back to the 1940s, the owners are committed to providing the kind of customer service reminiscent of a mom-and-pop store. The store offers personalized pharmaceutical care, free home delivery, and vaccinations and shots given within the privacy of its consultation room. It sells over-the-counter medicine, dollar items, snacks and household goods but no tobacco products or alcohol.
Here is what Brenda Epps had to say about being a new business owner, the field of pharmacy and how she and her husband transitioned from owning cattle to opening a pharmacy:
How did you choose the name of your business?
Our business was named Appomattox Drugs by my husband, Charles because the building is located near the Appomattox River in the historic village of Ettrick, Virginia.
Who does your pharmacy serve?
Our customer base includes students, staff, and faculty from Virginia State University; the Ettrick community and the surrounding Tri-city area of Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell. We also reach out to Fort Lee, Dinwiddie, and the Matoaca area.
You’ve been a pharmacist for a long time. Where have you worked and what inspired you to become a pharmacist?
I have been a pharmacist for 34 years and I was inspired by my manager, John Smith, when I worked at Peoples Drug Store in Richmond during my high school years. I have worked for Peoples Drug, Rite-Aid, Eckerd, Kenner Army Hospital at Fort Lee, Caremark Mail Order and CVS Pharmacy.
What exactly does a pharmacist do?
A pharmacist fills prescription per orders from physicians, dentists and veterinarians. We recommend over the counter medication for ailments such as colds, flu, constipation and pain relief. We recommend patients to see physicians for more serious problems. We do record keeping on pharmacy inventory. We check allergies and check for drug interaction and give flu shots.
As a Black woman, what is the field of pharmacy like?
The field of pharmacy is wonderful for Black women. You can usually find employment because people will always be sick and in need of health care and prescriptions. Pharmacies pay women well and a pharmacist career is considered one of the most trusted professions.
Prior to opening the pharmacy, what kind of work were you and your husband doing?
My husband was retired from Ft. Lee Army Base and raised cows for about 10 years…I was working for a retail chain pharmacy for the last 10 years. We realized we could not do the pharmacy and the cows , so he sold all of his cattle to purchase and renovate the building for the pharmacy.
What is your husband’s role at the pharmacy?
My husband is part owner in the business. He oversees the day to day business and helps out with customers and does whatever needs to be done. He, along with Ron Cutler who is the pharmacy’s contractor and front end manager, did all the renovation on the building. They had a vision to make my dream of a pharmacy come true. It was amazing to see a United States Post Office transformed into Appomattox Drugs.
What is it like being in business with your husband?
We enjoy working together because when I worked 13 hours at the chain store I would not see very much of him and now it is great to work the entire day with him. He is here for support, motivation and inspiration.
What prompted you to open a new business in such challenging economic times?
We saw a need for a pharmacy in the Ettrick community and it looked like a good business opportunity. I have always dreamt of owning a pharmacy business since my college years at Howard University. We are not in the best economical times but we feel positive we will have a bright future.
How do you define success personally and how has that factored into the opening of the pharmacy?
I define success as the satisfaction I get from helping other people. I love to give my customers the best possible customer service and find solutions to basic health needs.
The neighborhood where Appomattox Drugs resides is undergoing a time of revitalization with Virginia State University buying and demolishing many properties across from your pharmacy on Chesterfield Avenue. How do you think your business fits into those efforts?
I feel our business will help revitalize and uplift the community.VSU is expanding and I feel we are here on the ground floor to work with them and serve the community. The pharmacy is very convenient to the residents in the community and in walking distance for residents without transportation. We will offer free delivery within a five mile radius. We aim to please and hope to make citizens healthier and happier.
How has the community responded to the opening of the pharmacy?
The community has been very receptive and excited. We have received only favorable feedback for preserving the old Ettrick Post Office and establishing a pharmacy with an old fashion mom-and-pop-store theme. A customer came in the other day from Richmond who had worked across the street and could not believe her eyes and just wanted to take pictures of inside the building..
What do you need from the community to succeed?
We need more customers to come in and take a look at what we have to offer.
Where are your aspirations for your business?
In 5-10 years, we hope to continue to grow and provide more services to the community. There will be many changes in the Ettrick area and we would like to expand and grow along with the community.
There are national chains located within one mile of your store. Why should customers do business with you instead of the big retail pharmacies?
We have many dollar deals and carry a wide range of products. Many of our products are cheaper than other stores and dollar stores. We aim to please and can order hard to find products. We provide personal service. We are a different pharmacy environment. We make customers feel special, not just a number. And we take time with them and give the highest and upmost care and attention.
What’s been the most encouraging aspects of having opened the pharmacy?
The positive response from the community, family and friends. Most people are very proud of our achievement. This was an incredible journey for me. The experience of seeing a business from the ground floor and the different aspects involved in running a business. This journey would not have been possible without the previous building owner, Mr. Lawrence Belcher, and his brother, Mr. Jerry Belcher.
From a pharmacist perspective, what do you think the Black community should know about their health and medicine?
The Black community should know to be compliant with their medication and how important it is to take their medication properly to prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. Also, they should know that pharmacists let patients know of drug interactions and what food may affect medication. We also give immunizations which make the community healthier.
What else would you like people to know?
We are the pharmacy where the pharmacist knows your name.
The store is located at 21414 Chesterfield Avenue in South Chesterfield, Virginia. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.appomattoxdrugs.com.