For the past 28 years, the Alaco Discount Pharmacy building located at 544 West Main Street (Hwy. 431 South) in Glencoe has become as much a neighborhood institution as the old Big Chief Drive-In building or “Parking Lot Full” signs on and around Lonesome Bend Road prior to a GHS varsity football game.
According to store manager/pharmacist tech Paulette Chandler, who has been with Alaco the full 28 years at the location, the regular patrons of the business are considered part of an extended family that has steadily grown.
“It’s always a one-on-one with our customers,” she said. “I think a lot of that comes from us always being home-owned from the Gadsden area, and that’s important to our customers. People are a name, not a number, when they come in here. You meet new people every day, and everybody’s got a story to tell.”
A family-type atmosphere is a big part of Alaco’s appeal.
“We know their business and they know ours,” Chandler said with a laugh. “They tell us their problems, and we listen, just like a regular family does. A lot of times, folks come in just to get the news of what’s going on or to tell us about something that going on in the community. All we need is a table and some chairs with a coffee pot!”
Just as a family shares its joys, however, Alaco has experienced its share of sadness upon the loss of a customer.
“It always sad when one of our folks passes away,” said Chandler. “It’s one more face that we won’t see in the store anymore. We had one customer who died suddenly several months ago that had been coming in for years. He never failed to speak to everybody there by name, and he made sure to tell everyone how much he loved them. He loved everybody, and he wanted you to know it before he left. He was a special person that touched a lot of people’s lives.”
In addition to filling prescriptions, Alaco helps customers fill out insurance forms, advises customers on over-the-counter medication and offers a variety of medical supplies. Among the items are the J.R. Watkins products, which used to be sold by traveling salesmen door-to-door.
A considerable portion of Alaco’s business comes from the senior citizen community, where word-of-mouth is the best advertising. Chandler pointed out that Alaco makes deliveries to its homebound customers.
“Sometimes we get older folks who want you to sit down with them for a few minutes, and we take the time to do that. Even if we’re really busy, we do it. We also try to help out with the senior group’s projects and get-togethers whenever we can.”
An Alabama City native and Emma Sansom High School graduate, Chandler considers herself first and foremost a “people” person.
“Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day personally, I always make sure to greet everyone who comes in with a smile and ask how they’re doing,” she said. “We make time to explain their medication and answer any questions they may have. We realize that people can do their [pharmacy] business elsewhere, and our personal touch is part of our way of letting them know that we appreciate their business.”
Without divulging her age, Chandler acknowledged that she is at the point where she has serviced three generations of a particular family.
“I’m starting to see the grandchildren of the folks that were around when we first opened up here,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a sign of growing old!”
As with any long-standing neighborhood institution, Alaco is actively involved with sponsoring Glencoe athletics, from the elementary school through the middle school to the high school.
“We sponsor things like the Halloween Carnival for the younger kids to homecoming for the [varsity] football team,” said Chandler. “The schools are a big part of the community, and we want to see them grow.”
Pharmacists Bob Neal and Ronnie Smith are the current owners of Alaco. Stephen Parrish, Betty Pruitt and Wendy Curvin comprise the rest of the staff.
“We also have great bosses, and when you have good people to work for, it makes your day a whole lot easier,” said Chandler.
In terms of memorable moments over the past 28 years, Paulette said there are too many to recall, both of the good variety and bad variety.
“You make memories every day, whether it’s a child crying walking in the door screaming because she’s got to have a shot and you calm her down with a sucker, or an elderly person who tells us that he’s just been diagnosed with cancer. Some days you cry with people, other days you laugh with them, just like a regular family.”