It was 1994 when I opened Thompson Chemists and it was in 2001 that I thought to myself that if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t. For it was only shortly after the horrific happenings on 9/11 that I finally stopped working seven days a week and 14 plus hour days that often ended with my sleeping in the store in order to catch up on endless paperwork.
My wife, Jolie, would take care of our three babies and constantly beg me to come home but my determination to have Thompson Chemists survive as an independent pharmacy in NYC made me forget that work was only one part of my life. I was an overweight, nervous insomniac who lived on soda and candy. My body ached so badly I would crawl out of bed in the morning and wrap my knees with bandages so that I could stand all day. At night I would lock the store doors and fall in and out of sleep while trying to check the days receipts and file prescriptions. I would keep telling myself if I just get through the week, I would catch up and everything would be OK…but I was fooling no one.
It was only after that terrible Tuesday in 2001 that I stopped working seven days a week because I began to realize that the need to be with my children was not just luxury but essential. With sirens continuously wailing through the night and everyone’s lives being permeated by fear and confusion, it was clear that there was no way Jolie could continue without my support. However, I would still try to manage on my own with only a few delivery and stock people. Irit, my long time cosmetician and front-end manager was blossoming a family of her own and although she lived next door she was unable to provide the same attention as she used to.
So it wasn’t until one night that I fell asleep in the store with door open and Irit mistook me for dead that I began to increase the Thompson Chemists staff. This allowed a change in my life. I began to exercise more, eat correctly, sleep better and spend time with my family as much as possible. Not only that, but I was able to provide Thompson Chemists with even more attention.
Slowly, we grew together and each addition to my staff was treated as a member of our family and nurtured in to the degree they desired. Many employees would begin with little knowledge of the business and later evolve into valued independently thinking apprentices who would combine their own personal talents into a continuously growing environment. I viewed–and still do–Thompson Chemists as an institution that allows individuals to be who they are and use the experience they obtain while working towards anything they desire.
Along the way many individuals chose to stay on board to see what would happen. Many had no intention of ever working in a pharmacy but became so involved with the growing structure of the business that it became their lives as well as mine. All this happened in less then 600 square feet of space. Today, twenty wonderful individuals work together as one caring for our community. We continue to listen to our customers, discover new products, read, write, communicate and grow...
Grow? Wow! Wait a minute! Now, hold on there, what was that I said? Didn’t I say I would never go through that again? Well, I guess you should never say never because it just so happened we found a spot around the block that would allow us to do all the wonderful things we desired and still not leave our original location which we all viewed as our baby.
On April 5th, shortly after midnight, I received the call that is every brick and mortar business owners’ nightmare. My “baby burnt down”. The phone rang it was my long time friend and landlord, Joseph Chinnici, who was urgently waking me up me with; “Gary! Gary, your store, your store is on fire. The firemen are there, sawing down the gate. Come, come quick.” He later comforted me in his apartment with bottle of scotch and many kind words. The community was just as shocked as I was and many people were outside in their robes offering hugs while I cried like a baby.
Next, was instinct. No work had begun at our location around the block so we thankfully had a place to go. We just had no computers, no phones, no medicine or anything else. But we had each other and we had our software vendor, OPUS-ISM. By 8:00am the next morning they were at our door to pick up our server. Before 10am they informed me that the hard drive–the core of our business–was intact. Great news! The business was saved! It would have been borderline impossible for us to operate without that data. The next day a new computer arrived with OPUS-ISM software and hardware geniuses. We were still without phone lines, but that’s another story.
Six months later, after going through 16+ years of stuff, we are rebuilt and have moved back! Now it is back to Plan A which is where it all begins…Growth. Thank you all for staying on the board I hope you will enjoy the journey ahead because it promises to be just as exciting as the past.
Let the long strange trip continue …
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Gary & Jolie are all about building & sustaining community. They are full of integrity, humor & grace.
Thank you for sharing this reflection.