PHILLIPSBURG — Though it hasn’t always carried the family name, there has been a Witmer filling prescriptions in Phillips County for more than 80 years.
But there probably aren’t many around who can remember the pharmacy in downtown Phillipsburg by any other name. And soon, Witmer Drug Store will have even more of a presence at the corner of Third and F streets.
Since 1935, Witmer Drug has been located at 779 Third, five years after Raymond Witmer — grandfather of current owner Eric Witmer — came to town as a pharmacist for then Rhinehart Drug. And the rest, as some would say, is history.
But Eric Witmer, a third-generation pharmacist after his father, Jack, ran the business, is making some history of his own. Expanding the small pharmacy two storefronts north to the corner, he and business partner Steve Schick — both are Phillipsburg High School graduates from the early 1980s — are expecting their new-and-improved pharmacy to open its doors in May or June, barring any more unforeseen construction delays. Witmer and Schick bought out Eric’s father in 1997 after each worked there for approximately two decades combined.
“We’ve needed to do it for quite some time,” Eric Witmer said. “We’ve kind of been falling over one another here.”
So after some deliberation and haggling with the former property owners, the business purchased the two storefronts to the north, formerly a real estate agency and a jewelry store. They knocked a hole in the wall and got things started.
The extra space will allow for a more centralized and bigger prescription counter, along with room for more of the odds and ends one would expect to find in a community drug store.
“I didn’t want to do an undertaking like this in my 60s, so I thought I better do it while I’m in my 50s or I might not be around to enjoy it very long,” Eric Witmer said.
The expansion arguably is the first significant change for the business since Eric’s grandfather started it so many years ago — the pharmacy did feature a soda fountain that was removed in 1968. But one thing that hasn’t changed through three generations is the pharmacy’s success as a top provider for not only Phillipsburg but the region.
It’s a staple for Phillips County and an easily recognizable name.
“It’s just because they’ve been there so long,” said Phillipsburg Chamber and Main Street Executive Director Angie Wells, who has been in that position now for approximately a year.
“People are just loyal to Witmer Drug. The other drug store (now Midwest Family Health) has changed hands. Sometimes that affects different people. It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s that loyalty there. If you’ve gone there, then you stay there.”
And that shows up in Witmer Drug’s customer service. While it is getting bigger, that small-town charm isn’t going away. Customers always are met with a smile on a familiar face, whether it be from Witmer, Schick, family or one of a few employees.
“We always try to take good care of people, and I think people appreciate that,” Eric Witmer said. “We try to get people in and out of the pharmacy quick because they’ve been waiting in the doctor’s office for an hour or so maybe, and they’re ready to do something else.”
But even if there is a small wait, Witmers has plenty of other shopping choices. From apparel or memorabilia to support local or collegiate athletic teams to candy to candles to gift cards, there’s a good chance they have something. And if not, Scott-McCoppin bookstore is just a couple doors down, one of numerous other businesses that make Phillipsburg’s downtown unique.
“It’s just a nice environment when you go in,” Wells said. “To expand at this time in their lives is a major thing. It’s wonderful to see. I’m very happy they’re doing that.”
Witmer Drug, among many other businesses in town, also is highly active in chamber and downtown events, Wells said. The pharmacy was named the chamber’s 2015 business of the year, voted on by chamber members after being nominated as one of three finalists.
And the upcoming expansion is something Witmer hopes gives something back to the community that has been so great to his family now for going on 90 years.
“Hopefully we’re able to put something out there the community likes,” Eric Witmer said.