A good prescription for success.
In many parts of the country the idea of a neighborhood pharmacy is but a distant memory.
But not in Washington State. Bartell Drugs has been locally owned and operated for the last 122 years and it’s the oldest family-owned pharmacy in the United States. While a lot of players have come and gone over the intervening years, Bartell continues to carve an important niche in the marketplace and the community.
As with most businesses, opportunity knocks at the strangest times. It certainly did for George H. Bartell, Sr., a 21 year-old pharmacist at Lake Washington Pharmacy. Just two weeks after joining the small pharmacy, his new boss decided he wanted out of the business. Young George purchased the pharmacy and a dynasty was born.
Well, almost born. George lived in the back of the pharmacy, often filling orders around the clock. Eventually this took a heavy toll on his health and George decided that a change of scenery would do him good. Like many young men in Seattle, he headed to the gold fields of Alaska, hoping to strike it rich during the Gold Rush. When that didn’t pan out, George returned to Seattle and his pharmacy. The time in Alaska wasn’t totally mispent. While there, he created a new business plan — an idea for a chain of pharmacies that sold products at discount prices.
For the next three and a half decades, Bartell Drugs built its business on innovation and value, adding such features as in-store soda fountains, film development and even a candy factory, all in an effort to meet changing customer needs and serve market demands.
Eventually, George Sr. decided it was time to turn the reins of the business over to someone else. George Jr. was the obvious choice. His first management decision came when he was still in elementary school. A competing pharmacy had offered to buy the family business and young George told his dad not to sell it.
George Jr. ushered in an age of change for the family business. In post-war America, downtown cores were dying and the suburbs were staged for unparalleled growth. Bartell Drugs changed with the times, closing their old downtown stores and opening up new ones in places like Burien and Bellevue, small communities that would explode in population over time. Bartell Drugs even had the honor of becoming the first drugstore in the nation to put its faith in a new-fangled retailing concept, the regional shopping center.
Bartell Drugs continues to hold its own in an increasingly crowded marketplace, largely due to its superior customer service, affordable prices, innovation (they sell local brews by the growler in some locations) and deep commitment to being an active member of the community. The 58 stores that dot King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are treasured as the local business legends they have become over the last 122 years.