James Palmieri and Gene Ragazzo always knew they wanted to go into business together. The two men have been best friends for over 50 years, 31 of which they spent running Hopewell Pharmacy together.
“That was a marriage in and of itself,” Palmieri says with a laughs. “Being partners for over 32 years with Gene was a good experience, a great experience, a great ride.”
That ride has finally come to a close. Four years ago, Palmieri purchased Ragazzo’s stake in the business, and afterward approached his niece, JoAnn Hobson, about one day selling the pharmacy to her.
This year, the transaction finally took place, with Hobson and her business partner, Eric Jaderlund, taking ownership from Palmieri on Aug. 31 of this year. Palmieri had long considered Hobson, who had worked at the pharmacy for nearly 30 years, the leading candidate to take over the store.
Hobson recounts the moment Palmieri approached her about handing off the business.
“First I was excited. Then I was overwhelmed. Then nervous,” she said with a laugh. “I said right away that I’d like to buy it.”
“It was the same for me,” said Jaderlund. “When the opportunity came, when JoAnn asked me, I didn’t hesitate.”
Hobson started working at the pharmacy in 1987 when she was in college studying pharmacy science. She was eventually offered a full-time position after graduation from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and has remained at the pharmacy since.
Jaderlund joined the pharmacy in 2007. After graduating from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in 1994, he spent a decade working as a pharmacy manager at CVS before switching over to work as a pharmacy manager at Wegmans for three more years. He then worked as a supervisory pharmacist at Hopewell Pharmacy for nearly seven years before leaving to work at Atlas Drug and Nutrition.
When Hobson contacted him to ask about running the pharmacy together, he decided to return to Hopewell.
Hobson, who grew up in Hamilton, lives in Pennington with her husband Jeff, who works in information technology for the state. The couple has three children: Dylan and Ryan, 17, and Jeffrey, 16. Jaderlund currently lives in Bridgewater with his daughters Mia, 19, and Sydney, 14.
Though ownership has changed, it is likely that Hopewell Pharmacy customers have noticed little difference in day-to-day operations. Hobson and Jaderlund are both familiar faces in the community.
Hobson and Jaderlund have big plans for the future of the pharmacy. Right now, they’re working on expanding their compounding operations and lines of pet supplements, nutritional supplements, and hemp products. Regardless of what changes the future holds, both owners are determined to prioritize the local presence and community ties their predecessors worked so hard to build.
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Palmieri and Ragazzo have known each other since high school. After rooming together for four years at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Sciences, both men worked in various hospitals and pharmacies in the area, one of which was Hopewell Pharmacy. In 1979, Palmieri started to work full time for the pharmacy, while Ragazzo would occasionally fill in.
In 1986, Palmieri and Ragazzo received the opportunity to buy a pharmacy in Washington Township, Warren County. According to Palmieri, the two men were initially hesitant about the purchase because the pharmacy was an hour and a half drive from where they lived in Trenton.
After some deliberation, though, they took the offer. This was the opportunity they had been waiting for. The duo officially purchased the pharmacy on Oct. 1, 1986.
Eleven months later, the men were asked to return to Hopewell Pharmacy to take over from the owners at the time, Leonard Caputo and George Neeley. Palmieri and Ragazzo knew the owners, who had run the pharmacy for 25 years, well. Palmieri and Ragazzo again hesitated. Though they didn’t want to run a second pharmacy, they knew Hopewell, loved the community, and ultimately took the offer. They started as the new owners at Hopewell Pharmacy on Sept. 1, 1987, 11 months after they took over their first shop.
“We knew we were doing the right thing because it was such a good area and a great store,” Palmieri said. “It was a no brainer to go back to Hopewell.”
The new owners worked hard to preserve what they describe as the “old and stoic” character of the store. The building that occupies 1 W. Broad St. dates back over 100 years. Decades ago, the building comprised three stores: the post office, a five-and-dime store, and the pharmacy. As time passed, the post office moved down the street, and the five and dime store evolved into a card-and-gift section. Palmieri said the two men kept the section and wood floors until they began expanding the business in 1994.
In January 1994, with their eye on the national market, Palmieri and Ragazzo introduced the concept of compounding, the process by which pharmacists use raw ingredients to create different dosages and forms of medication for doctors to prescribe their patients, to the pharmacy. As the pharmacy’s popularity as a compounding center grew, the new owners realized they had to make space for their new business. The retail section of the store shrank. The card and gift store became a laboratory. The stationery department became the cleanroom.
The owners’ hard work paid off. After years of renovations and expansions, the two successfully transformed Hopewell into a national compounding pharmacy. While the pharmacy maintains its local business in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, it also services customers nationally and internationally. Today, Hopewell Pharmacy is one of the few compounding pharmacies in the country compliant with new regulatory standards set to be introduced next year.
Despite the changes, Palmieri and Ragazzo said they always made sure to prioritize close relations with the community. They emphasized the independence of the store during their ownership, maintaining good customer service, high-quality products, and competitive pricing.
“People would always comment that it still has that old-time pharmacy feel, that good community feel, that old mom-and-pop store feel,” Palmieri said. “That’s what we tried to keep.”
Both Palmieri and Ragazzo have moved away from the area. Palmieri, who lived in East Amwell while running the pharmacy, has relocated to Broomall, Pennsylvania to live closer to his daughters, Lauren, age 31, and Melissa, age 28, and his granddaughter, Adelyn. Palmieri lives with his wife, Annmarie, who worked as a nurse for four years before retiring to raise the couple’s children.
Ragazzo, who lived in Pennington for 25 years, has also relocated since leaving the pharmacy. He lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania and has one daughter, Natalie, age 22, who recently graduated from theatre school in Nashville.
While Palmieri and Ragazzo have officially handed over ownership of the pharmacy, they have not stopped pursuing other business ventures together. Currently, the two are financial investors in a yoga studio and a speed, agility and strength training school for youth. The two businesses, Honor Yoga and the Parisi Speed School, are both located in Washington, New Jersey.
They have not ruled out the idea of returning to the pharmacy business, either.
“I love pharmacy and I love being a pharmacist, so I’m sure I’m going to revisit that,” said Palmieri. “But it’s only been six weeks now that I’ve been out of the business. I have to take a step back, enjoy life, do a bit of traveling, enjoy my first granddaughter, and go from there.”
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While it is uncertain where Palmieri and Ragazzo will end up in the future, it is clear that they made a lasting impact at the pharmacy.
“They built relationships with doctors and created a foundation,” Hobson says. “They built a legacy. They built a reputation.”
Palmieri said he believes Hobson and Jaderlund, will continue to maintain that same character of the pharmacy in the years to come. Both Hobson and Jaderlund, know the pharmacy inside and out.
“I was aiming to pass it along to her and keep that same feeling of the pharmacy going for the coming years,” said Palmieri. “I’m sure she and Eric going to carry on the traditions of Hopewell Pharmacy in a great way.”