AYER -- For pharmacist Tracie Ezzio, who owns Family Pharmacy and two other Family Pharmacy locations in the region, "making a difference in your community," is what her small drug-store chain is all about.
Interviewed recently in the Ayer store, which has been open for six weeks, Ezzio talked about the genesis of the enterprise and why her little-engine-that-could business model is succeeding in an era of big-box buyouts and mega-chains with famous logos and wider-ranging sites.
With stores in Ayer, Pepperell and Tyngsboro, her focus is always local, she said and would stay that way even if she opens another store in the future.
In Pepperell, for example, "we raffled off a quilt for PATCH," she said, naming one of several local charities and initiatives the pharmacy has been part of.
The Ayer store is small but seems spacious, a welcoming place with lots of natural light, ample walk-around space and everything one might expect to find at the corner drug store, from Bert's Bees products to men's and women's hosiery and a little bit of just about everything else.
Cold medicine, pain remedies, support braces, a "Heart Health" line of vitamins and supplements, tissues, toys, Yankee Candles, even a few greeting cards, 99 cents each.
Then there's the friendly, knowledgeable staff. Rose Jangraw is the clerk behind the counter. She greets customers, handles bills, even had a hand in the décor, she said.
Ayer resident Carl McClatchey is one of the pharmacists working today. The other -- besides Ezzio -- is Joe Braasch. Also on duty: Pharmacy Technician Trevor Ramos.
The community message is important to Ezzio, who's been a pharmacist for 42 years, and the profession runs in her family. Her father owned a drug store in Freeport, ME that she had once hoped to take over. But he sold out while she was still in college, she said.
She was disappointed but not discouraged. After working in her field for many years and raising five children, Ezzio went into business for herself, opening the first Family Pharmacy in Tyngsboro 11 years ago.
Her daughter Larissa, also a pharmacist, now operates the Pepperell Family Pharmacy, which Ezzio opened five years ago at the site of the old train depot. She later expanded with a brand new building, growing from the original 900 square feet to 2,500 square feet today.
Offering services such as free home delivery and personal perks, such as counseling patients about their medications, Ezzio said all three stores have community roots and established networks among medical providers and health care organizations in the area, including Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer.
The idea she started with was to fill unmet community needs, Ezzio said .
In Pepperell, for example, two local pharmacies, McNabb's, where she once worked, and Babineau's were gone, shuttered or sold to a larger enterprise. People she talked to said they'd welcome a new, family-style drug store in town that would not only fill prescriptions but also generate the "homey" vibe those stores did in the past, like stocking merchandise geared to the area, even selling Girl Scout cookies in the store.
She also spotted a vacancy to fill in Ayer, with no pharmacy in town since the Medicine Shop closed a few years ago. She looked at that building, on Main Street near the train station, she said, but in the end chose a spot around the bend, 13 Park street, where the Ayer Family Pharmacy opened earlier this year.
The location had a lot to offer than the other one did not, she said, such as parking space and a larger structural footprint in the existing brick-front building, which once housed a Mexican restaurant.
The pharmacy now occupies about 1,600 square feet on the main floor, Ezzio said, with storage in the basement. The layout includes a cozy room in back where patients can sit down privately with a pharmacist (counting herself, there are six in the Family Pharmacy family) to talk or get an inoculation, such as a flu or pneumonia shot.
In addition to the building, which had been shuttered for years, Ezzio also acquired a small lot next door for parking, where a long-vacant old house once stood. It was razed last summer.
"Word of mouth" has spread that there's a pharmacy in town again, Ezzio she said, and business has been growing steadily since the "soft" opening earlier this year, amid a New England winter cold snap with less than ideal road conditions. Now that spring has arrived, she plans a grand opening soon.
As the new store gains ground, Ezzio wants to remind folks who once did business with the old Medicine Shop and might have had to travel some distance to pick up their medications since it closed that they can come back home. It's easy to switch prescriptions, she said. Just call, and she and her staff will handle the rest. Plus, Ayer Family Pharmacy, like her other two stores, offers free home delivery.
Ayer Family Pharmacy, 13 Park Street, is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 978-391-4061.