NORMAN — Come February, Tom Bishop will begin his 41st year as a Norman pharmacist, proprietor of Central Pharmacy at 222 Alameda St.
Bishop can look back to the days when the pharmacy was connected by intercom with doctor’s offices and the doctors called in the prescriptions themselves. Each prescription label was typewritten, and the information entered on the individual’s prescription record by hand.
“We were the first pharmacy in town to keep the patient profiles,” he said, a practice which continues although now the computer software automatically updates records.
Along the way there have been changes. Central Pharmacy was the first in town to install a drive-through window.
“And it is the same window today. I can open it up and talk directly with the customer.”
Despite updates, some things remain the same.
“We are modern in technology, but have the small town service mentality,” he said.
He is proud of maintaining an active pharmacy alongside the big chains which have made headway into Norman.
Bishop, a Wewoka native, found his OU studies interrupted when he was drafted. After serving as a combat medic in Vietnam, he returned to get a pharmacy degree. While a student, he worked part-time at Central Pharmacy and after graduating was hired at Hyde Drug on Main Street. He cites working there with pharmacist Miller Maddox schooling him in customer service.
He took pharmacist Ralph Reed’s offer to return to
Central Pharmacy, first as a part-owner. Reed, son of one of Norman’s earliest settlers and the first pharmacist, had established the pharmacy in a building adjacent to one housing three doctors and two dentists. It was Norman’s first modern medical clinic.
While patients of the doctors had their choice of pharmacies, most chose Central Pharmacy, and many of those relationships continue today, “even to second and third generations of families.” There are no longer doctors next door, and the pharmacy is a mile away from any other doctor’s office, but the business continues to thrive.
Central Pharmacy has no trouble competing with the big store pharmacies, Bishop said.
“We are competitive on prices, and we can specialize in personal service. We know our customers,” he said, adding that most of them are residents of the central Norman neighborhoods.
He is called on to answer questions, especially about side effects and interaction of drugs.
“I do a lot of counseling,” he said.
Bishop knows that the personal touch he can give his customers is appreciated and is what brings them back to Central Pharmacy when they have a need.
Bishop borrowed money for the pharmacy’s first computer in 1986.
“It was an IBM. It cost $25,000 and wasn’t very sophisticated,” he said.
Although he gets to his pharmacy by 8 a.m., the doors don’t open for business until 9, and, as the only registered pharmacist, he works until 6 p.m., grabbing a few bites to eat mid-day. With the help of two licensed pharmacy techs, they fill as many as 150 prescriptions a day, but after the four-day Thanksgiving holiday, they hit a new record of 240 prescriptions that Monday. One of those pharmacy techs is his daughter, Kayla Schoelen. Another daughter, Darcy Pippins, teaches Spanish at Norman High.
“Both girls started working at the pharmacy when they were 16, making deliveries,” Bishop said.
Prescription delivery is a service he still provides, but has to charge for now.
Bishop has endured five armed robberies, back in the 1980s and ’90s, and too many break-ins to keep count. That’s not so much of a problem now due to a change in the law making robberies of a pharmacy a federal offense, and due to better security systems. He doesn’t like the bars he had to install on the windows.
He has even filled prescriptions under the beam of a flashlight during power outages, like the ice storm a few Decembers ago. If he takes a day off, something he rarely does, he employs a pharmacist to fill in, as there always has to be a registered pharmacist on duty for the store to open. He has been a member of the McFarlin Methodist Church choir for 20 years, and he and his wife Chris took time to travel to Europe with the choir. He also enjoys an occasional game of golf.
Bishop has no plans to retire, although some day turning the pharmacy over to a son-in-law who is a pharmacist in Oklahoma City is in the back of his mind.
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