WEST JEFFERSON-For Aletha and Bradley Eller, the dream was always simple – find a path to leave the corporate work-a-day world behind and build a business where they could forge real relationships with real people.
They found a way to bring that dream to life four years ago, right here in Ashe County, with their purchase of People’s Drug.
“We were ready for a change of pace and we wanted to own our own business, work for ourselves and hopefully grow something to look back on and be proud of,” Bradley Eller, People’s Drug Co-Owner said. “And so far it’s been what we’ve hoped it would be.”
In a recent sit down with The Jefferson Post the couple offered their views on what it takes to bring a vision to life.
2012 was their personal turning point
Both Ellers forged long careers with major corporations – Bradley at Lowe’s giant corporate office and Aletha with retail pharmacy outlets – but they wanted more.
When the opportunity to purchase People’s became a possibility in 2012, the couple headed up the mountain to scout the terrain. They were excited by what they found.
“It was everything we were looking for,” Bradley Eller said. “Great ‘hometown feel’ in a great location, with the neatest little cafe, so we decided, hey, we’re going to go for this.”
Bradley Eller said the modern day pharmacy and medical world is constantly evolving – and most of those changes put more pressure on independent pharmacies like People’s.
“With billing and insurance working the way that it does, we price very little of our own pharmaceuticals,” Bradley Eller said. “And we knew that coming in, so we needed to do things a little differently.”
Fortunately Bradley Eller said he had two secret weapons: Louise’s Sweet Tea Cafe and Aletha Eller.
He said the cafe-inside-the-drugstore concept, while once common, is falling by the wayside elsewhere. He believes he’d never be able to make a go of it here in Ashe County without it.
“I mean, we’ve got a group of retired gentlemen that come in here each morning, 9 a.m. on the dot, and they drink coffee and share stories and at 9:20 they all pull out a coin and play Odd Man until someone is left to pay for the day,” Bradley Eller said. “I don’t think they’d trade that for anything, and I know I wouldn’t.”
When deciding to take on the pharmacy, Bradley Eller said he was also planning on leaning heavily on Aletha’s many talents to make their pharmacy concept work.
“I was betting on her when we bought this,” Bradley Eller said. “She brings a very special set of skills to this as a pharmacist, but I was betting that people would like her as much as I did and that she would form those relationships as easily as I thought she would.”
People’s Drug customer Marjorie Matney would agree. She stopped by the pharmacy recently to fill her prescription but ultimately ended up exchanging tips with Aletha Eller about the art and science of growing flowers.
“It’s why I enjoy dropping by,” Matney said. “You feel like people really care about what you have to say.”
Take a break from things
And while Aletha Eller said she and Bradley have renovated portions of the pharmacy and freshened its decor since taking over, the goal has been to never alter Peopel’s small town charm Matney said she enjoys so much.
“Communication is a dying art these days and if we can hold on to that here, we’re probably doing OK,” Aletha Eller said. “We’ve even struggled with the idea of adding a TV or WiFi in the cafe – we like the idea of people putting down their phone and laughing and having a good time. Maybe call it electronic rehab, but real communication between real people, that’s special to us.”
Bradley said the process of taking responsibility over a business as complex as an independent pharmacy has been at times, but he also said he’s grateful for the impact People’s Drug and the men and women who visit each day have had on his family and his life.
“In ways I can’t fully explain, I’m a better family man, a better dad, a better Christian,” Bradley Eller said. “I’ve been exposed to a broader slice of people, those who have been exposed to hardships, those who are eternally giving of themselves. And by coming to a place where people don’t know you, we feel like we’ve had to earn trust and respect but people have been so welcoming, too. You don’t often get to pick up, start somewhere else and just reset everything. Here, we got to do that and hopefully we’re building something people will embrace for a long time.”
Visit 423 E 2nd St in West Jefferson or call (336) 246-9990 for more information.