Today marks five centuries in business for the Medical Center Pharmacy at the corner of Granade and East Grady Streets in Statesboro. Founded in 1960 by pharmacists Lem Nevil and Chester Hanberry, the Medical Center is known both as a local institution and an innovator.
“We were the first pharmacy in Statesboro that wasn’t located in downtown,” Lem Nevil said. “When we built the pharmacy, Bulloch Memorial Hospital was across the street from us, and there were several doctors located in this area. It just seemed like this location would be very convenient for both doctors and their patients.”
The pharmacy claims several “firsts” including the first in the Statesboro/Bulloch County area where a Graduate Registered Pharmacist was always on duty, the first that stayed open on Wednesday afternoons when all other businesses closed, the first business in the Statesboro/Bulloch County area that stayed open seven days a week, and the first pharmacy in the Statesboro/Bulloch County area to have a robotic dispensing system.
“We felt like people needed options, and they needed medical care seven days a week,” Nevil said. “We wanted to be there for our customers, and to some it may have seemed a little radical at that time.”
Statesboro resident Peggy Herrington has been a customer of the pharmacy since it opened. “I have always been able to depend on them, and I appreciate all of the attention that they have given to me over the years,” she said. “And, I must admit that I really like the pimento cheese sandwich from the soda fountain and their fresh brewed coffee.”
Nevil has witnessed many changes in the business that he started in 1960. In 1984, Nevil and Hanberry dissolved their partnership, and the soda fountain, originally located on the back, right wall of the store was relocated to a new addition in the rear. A larger gift section was added which Nevil’s wife, Anne, now manages.
Still active on the business side of the pharmacy, Nevil is not filling prescriptions any longer. He is now a minority partner in the business with his son Jaime Nevil and Walter Pease who are both pharmacists. Wes Pennington is also a pharmacist there.
The younger Nevil has been working with his father since graduating from the University of Georgia's school of pharmacy in 1984.
“It has been wonderful working in my family’s business,” Jaime Nevil said. “It has really meant a lot to me. I have watched my dad build this business, and I just knew that this is where I wanted to be. I love our customers, and seeing them on a regular basis and hearing how they are doing is one of the rewards of working here. I have been very blessed.”
Pease began his career with the Medical Canter in the 1960’s working behind the soda fountain. “Where I would work when I got out of college was never even a choice,” Pease said, “By tenth grade, I just knew what I wanted to do. I just knew I would come back here and be a pharmacist. I didn’t want to go and work anywhere else. I started working here as a pharmacist in 1974.”
The Soda Shoppe has a loyal following rivaling that of the trio of pharmacists who are constantly on duty. From cherry vanilla Cokes to chicken salad sandwiches, on any given day, the booths of the Soda Shoppe are overflowing at lunchtime.
One of the lunch counters biggest fans is retired judge J. Lane Johnston. “I love to eat their vanilla ice cream with either chocolate or strawberry syrup,” Johnston said. “But, I always eat my ice cream after I have had my hot dog which has been prepared ‘all the way’.”
The Medical Center has employed hundreds of high school and college students over the years many of which have become pharmacists as well. After graduating from Georgia Southern this spring, Medical Center employee Megan Lane is slated to begin South University’s pharmacy program in Savannah this June.
“I have worked here for the last three years, and it is like being part of a family,” Lane said. “I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. Both Jaime (Nevil) and Walter (Pease) wrote recommendations for me when I applied to pharmacy school. I will really miss working here.”
In 1999, the Medical Center added a second pharmacy location in the Cotton Ridge Medical Arts building on Fair Road where it continues to operate today.
“I was worried when the hospital moved several years ago that it would really have a negative effect on our business here at the original location,” Lem Nevil said. “But strangely enough, it was just the opposite. Our business increased ten to 15 percent. I guess you just don’t know how things are going to work out, but I am very proud of what we have done over the years. We will always put our customers first.”
In celebration of the pharmacy’s birthday, the Soda Shoppe will have $.50 hot dogs on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and Thursday will be a special dessert day. To learn more about the history of Medical Center, you can visit their website at www.mcp-rx.com.