Wise's prides itself in being a pharmacy the old-fashioned way
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.
In 1938, Joseph C. "Doc" Wise Sr. opened the first Wise's Drug Store in downtown Gainesville with $500 in operating capital.
Wise and family would build the business to include as many as five locations at one point in the early 1980s, including a larger downtown location with a soda fountain and lunch counter. Seventy-five years later, two locations continue to survive the competition from chain stores and mail-order prescriptions under Doc Wise's sons Buddy, 74, and Larry, 61, and their partner, Phil Gage, 71.
After manning the downtown store from 1969 until it closed in 2009, Buddy joined Larry at 708 SW Fourth Ave., a location that opened in 1962, while Gage continues to operate the Parkwood location he helped open in 1972 at 3601 SW Third Ave. Wise's also has a little "necessities" store inside The Atrium senior living community where they deliver prescriptions.
When Wise's began, pharmacists still compounded medicines.
"There wasn't anything pre-made," Buddy Wise said.
Prescriptions were phoned in. Insurance didn't usually cover prescriptions. Customers paid for their own medicine, which was less expensive.
Buddy Wise worked as a clerk during high school before becoming a pharmacist. He said Wise's was the first store in town to sell Russell Stover candies, which at the time was an exclusive arrangement. It was also a dealer for Eastman Kodak cameras and film.
While the pharmacy has changed with the technology and the times, the owners say it is their old-fashioned customer service that keeps people coming back.
"A lot of people tell me they like to talk to a person," Larry Wise said. "We'll spend a lot of time on the phone with some people."
"It is a pleasure to call the store and hear friendly voices," James Pearson wrote for a collection of customer remembrances that Wise's put together for its 75th anniversary.
Several customers wrote that they have been customers since the 1950s or 1960s.
Joyce Schafer Smith said she has been a "customer and friend" since 1943.
"If you know everybody's name that walks in the door, it makes a difference. That's what we try to do," Gage said. "That's what Mr. Wise kind of impressed on me. That's the reason I stayed with Wise's."
Gage was one of numerous University of Florida pharmacy students to intern at Wise's, starting at the downtown store in 1962.
His Parkwood location does a lot of work for assisted living facilities and nursing homes, compounding medicines to meet specific dose requirements.
"We have to have a little niche of something," he said. "You have to have something besides just walk-in trade."
Wise's also offers delivery service, making it convenient to people who have trouble getting around. The Fourth Avenue location has had a drive-in window since 1963.
After starting on the north side of the 200 block of West University Avenue, the original Wise's eventually moved across the street next to the Florida Theater, first on the east side and finally on the west side in 1959.
Rudy Gertner wrote that the soda fountain was a favorite spot for birthday parties, followed by a movie at the Florida Theater when tickets cost 20 or 30 cents.
Sarah Brown recalled eating her favorite — the deviled egg plate — at the lunch counter while waiting for her medicines.
Marie Jones managed the lunch counter for 38 years. Other longtime employees include Ulysses Ellis, who was a delivery driver for more than 50 years, and Pam Meade, who was a clerk, intern, pharmacy technician and finally a bookkeeper for more than 40 years.
Another brother, Joseph Wise Jr., is a pharmacist for Winn-Dixie. Buddy has three kids and a first cousin who are also pharmacists.
The two Wise brothers in the family business and Gage say they have no desire to retire anytime soon.
"It's been a lot of years, but I've enjoyed it," Buddy Wise said. "It's good seeing the people. Of course, at the downtown store you'd see more people who'd come to the soda fountain. I wish we still had that."