Across the country, from one town to the next, local pharmacies have become a dying breed, seemingly crowded out by a small group of national chains. But at 47 years of age, Community Pharmacy is bucking the trend as a locally rooted, independent store with a range of offerings for the mind, body, and spirit.
When asked how Madison’s Community Pharmacy—and its Middleton-based satellite location, Community Wellness Shop—has stayed the course in an ever-changing retail climate, Scott Chojnacki, a 25-year veteran employee, credits a hyper-focused, customer-centric approach.
First and foremost, Scott says Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Shop serve as resources to the people of Madison and surrounding communities. “We want to make sure that every customer that comes in has an easy opportunity to talk with one of us,” Scott says. “We want to actively have that conversation, and we want to be available to them.”
Scott says Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Shop are able to deliver on the mission by having a sizable experienced staff. Between the two locations, the cooperative has 25 employees, including 4 pharmacists at the downtown Madison location.
“We’ve made a decision to have a large staff because what we do is built on customer service,” Scott says. “We’re there to show [customers] the options. If they’re curious about something in particular, then we can talk more about it.”
The employee-managed cooperative’s overarching mission of promoting better health is as true today as it was when The University of Wisconsin–Madison Wisconsin Student Association first opened the doors with a staff of two pharmacists and a small group of volunteers.
Community Wellness Shop opened in October 2015 as a sign of the cooperative’s evolution. Because parking can be at a premium in the heart of Madison, the suburban spot was designed to offer more convenience.
“It’s one of the smartest things we’ve ever done,” Scott says of opening the west-end Middleton location, which came to be after the cooperative assumed a prior vitamin shop’s space. “The support for this location has exceeded our expectations.”
Because of its business model, Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Center ditch corporate conventions, meaning there are no outright owners, managers, or other titles. The employees adopt an all-hands-on-deck approach, and most rotate between the dual locations.
“I’m a big believer in that kind of workplace,” Scott says. “Everyone is involved in the decision-making. We do everything a manager would do, but we do it collectively.”
Scott says, employee tenure typically is long lived, which benefits customers walking through either of the cooperative’s sets of doors. “We have a lot of experience on our staff, and with that has come a lot of knowledge. We want to retain people that have all of this knowledge.”
As Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Shop have evolved, Scott says the product lines have followed suit. The original Madison location continues to offer a full-service prescription pharmacy service.
Both of the cooperative’s locations also offer up a rich product line that includes a range of herbs, supplements, natural body-care products, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, natural oils, and sexual health products—all with environmental responsibility in mind. “We try and offer it all,” Scott says. “There are lines of skin-care products that are edible because that’s how simple they are.”
One of the specialties at the two locations is the full range of herbs. A passage on the cooperative’s website describes how important the offering is: “They make our staff’s hearts flutter and our brains click into overdrive.”
Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Shop proclaim to offer Madison’s largest selection of bulk dried, herbs—many with medicinal as well as culinary applications. There’s a range of distributors because of the cooperative’s emphasis on locally grown, organic, and wild-harvested herbs.
Another product on the stores’ shelves that has been growing attention is CBD oil. CBD (cannabidiol) is 1 of more than 100 phytocannabinoids within the plant category. CBD oil comes from a hemp extract and serves as a nutritional supplement found within a plant’s flowers, leaves, and stems.
Jennifer Helmer, an herbalist working out of Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Center, says there has been a bounty of confusion on CBD oil as its popularity has gone in an upward trajectory. Although it’s a hemp extract, Jennifer says, “It is not the same as hemp-seed oil.”
In a further demonstration of how the cooperative aims to be a community resource, Jennifer says she and other staffers are on hand to share information about CBD oil so consumers can make informed decisions. “We take a lot of questions. There’s been a lot of hype.”
Part of the reason for CBD oil’s growing popularity is its reported benefits, which have included relief against physical pain, anxiety, and reducing the risk of many diseases. Jennifer, Scott, and other staffers within the cooperative are quick to point out CBD oil is not a one-size-fits-all treatment, though they happily field questions and point consumers toward other resources that can clear the fog of confusion.
“We’ve received some really amazing feedback from customers,” Scott says. “There are some phenomenal success stories out there. But there’s not a thing that we can sell that works for everyone.”
Jennifer, who proudly proclaims “plants are my passion,” says she offers some solid recommendations whenever the topic of CBD oil comes up in a conversation with a customer. Whether it’s CBD oil or any other hemp-derived product, Jennifer says it’s imperative consumers seek out reputable companies with high-quality-assurance standards. This process would include proof of third-party testing and the willingness to provide a certificate of analysis for the product if asked.
“We try to be very cautious,” Jennifer says. “We advocate people move forward with caution. We try and be very ethical. That’s important to us.”
Dave Fidlin is a freelance writer who has a special affinity for Madison. Dave’s career spans nearly 20 years, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to learn something new each day through his professional pursuits.
341 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Community Wellness Shop
6333 University Avenue #103
Middleton, WI 53562