Pharmacist Joseph Schoen and employee Nancy Cyran fill an order for customer Bill McClintock, of Ewing. (Photo by Sarah Unger.)

By Sarah Unger

West Trenton Pharmacy wasn’t so unusual when it rang up its first order in 1958. Like nearly all pharmacies of the time it was owned independently. “Today, we’re one of the few left,” pharmacist Joseph Schoen said while considering his 25th anniversary this month as owner.

“We’re busy,” Schoen said. “We provide superior customer service so we don’t have a big customer attrition rate.” At $4 million annually, the business’s gross sales back up his confidence. When he began managing the store in 1982, two years before he became the owner, it was filling about 40 prescriptions per day. Today, despite competition from national pharmacy retailers, that figure has more than quadrupled to 175 per day.

Schoen estimates some 8,000 customers, ranging from the occasional drop-ins to those he’s convinced he sees every other day.

“My pharmacy counter is right behind my regular sales counter, so a customer can ask me a question and I’ll drop what I’m doing and take care of them.”

Schoen’s wife Dawn is a pharmacist, too, but she works elsewhere. “That’s how we’ve stayed married so long,” he said with a smile. He employs 16 part-time staff members, three of whom comprise three generations from one family: delivery man Ed Stout and his daughter and granddaughter Nancy and Jennifer Cyran, who work the counter.

West Trenton carries most of the traditional items found in any large drugstore, from greeting cards and small office products to toiletries and over-the-counter remedies. The difference is that, with the entire retail space contained within a 1,500-squarefoot oblong footprint, customers will find what they’re looking for without a single turn down the wrong aisle.

While old-fashioned values like neighborly service and free delivery drive Schoen’s business approach, he uses current technology to facilitate operations. Portable scanner in hand, Schoen and his employees end each day zapping bar code automatically to suppliers to send new shipments of nearly depleted items.

In another sign of the times, a constant he contends with is the Medicare interface. “I don’t think it could have been more complicated if they tried,” Schoen said of the Part D plan for prescriptions.

As a member of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy Networkof independent pharmacists, West Trenton can keep marketing and operating costs manageable by working with the network’s common wholesaler and shared marketing plans. Combined with personal service, it’s the pooling of these resources, Schoen said, that enables independents to keep pace with the big guys.

For over 35 years, the establishment was located around the corner on West Upper Ferry Road, but an abrupt and steep increase rent compelled Schoen to look elsewhere. An available ranch house just around the corner on Bear Tavern offered just the right space. “And the parking’s better,” he said.

As he waited his turn in line, 20-year customer Bill McClintock mentioned that he’d spotted a young deer just past that very lot.

Located at 618 Bear Tavern Road just off West Upper Ferry and about a mile from I-95, West Trenton Pharmacy is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (609) 882-3131.