It takes a lot for the family behind Winyah Pharmacy to quit. In fact, they have not met a circumstance that would cause them to do so.
They have overcome fires, corporate expansions, corporate closings and rebuilding from the ground up.
Today the small town institutional pharmacy is nothing short of a success. Co-owner, Christy Whitlock, simply calls it “a quiet little business reaching out to 10,000 patients.”
It began in 1966 when Christy’s parents, Charles and Carol Cooper, began their young pharmacy in a small building behind Winyah Convalescent Center in the Maryville section of Georgetown. At the time it was called Winyah Dispensary.
Charles worked hard, serving Georgetown’s residents and nursing homes with their pharmaceutical needs, while Carol handled the business aspects.
The business went well until a fire destroyed the building in 1977. The destruction did not stop the Coopers. They relocated to Winyah’s current location in Georgetown and got back to work.
Over the years, the Andrews couple grew their business outside of the county to include five locations in South Carolina and North Carolina. In 1993, they made the decision to merge with a company out west and became public.
“Through a number of mergers and acquisitions, it came to Omnicare, which today is the largest institutional pharmacy in America,” said Christy’s husband and business partner, David Whitlock.
In 2004, the larger corporation chose to close the Georgetown location of Winyah Dispensary, the place where it all began.
“That would have put a lot of people out of a job,” Christy said. “Some had thirty plus years here.”
The Whitlocks could not walk away from the people who had been working with their family for decades. They saw their employees’ loyalty to the company and chose to remain loyal to the employees as well.
“When you’ve done this for so long, it’s all you know,” David said. “The family had an obligation to our employees.”
Christy called that time “scary” because there were no jobs. It was during the time the Steel Mill had closed and things looked bad for Georgetown County as a whole.
The Whitlocks said they met with their employees to discuss the situation and decided to reopen as Winyah Pharmacy. Their first job was to find customers, so they truly hit the streets and went door-to-door to the businesses they had served before.
Christy said their customers were eager to go back to the great service a smaller business offers, as well as the accountability. They opened back with seven employees and 300 beds to serve.
Today, the pharmacy has thirty employees and services over 10,000 patients in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers all over the Carolinas.
“The staff, that’s the reason we opened back,” David said. “They are really the success of this business. They’re really the ones that make it happen every day.”
Winyah opened a second branch in Charlotte, N.C., and teamed up with Guardian Pharmacy in Atlanta, Ga.
“Guardian provides us with services such as purchasing and helps us to compete with pricing and helps us grow where we need to grow,” David said. “Because of them we can focus on our customers and don’t have to worry about insurance.”
The Whitlocks, who make their home in Pawleys Island with their three children, plan to continue to grow their business, but not to the point where people become numbers. Christy sees the business as her family’s legacy, which she plans to keep alive.
“You come into work every day and you come in with a main objective — the patient,” David said. “We don’t take that for granted. We want to grow, but taking care of the customer is our main priority... Our number one commodity is people.”
The business itself is not the only legacy Charles Cooper left his family. He helped to establish the first endowment for the S.C. College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina. Charles graduated from the school in 1965 and remained active there, serving on the College of Pharmacy Advisory Board and the university’s Health and Sciences Foundation.
The Whitlocks were recently contacted by the school to help build a new MUSC Pharmacy College.
“We are paying back what really gave my dad the opportunity to build this business,” Christy said.
The MUSC campaign will kick-off with a reception for the Charles Cooper Challenge on Tuesday, January 31.
“We love that what we are doing here with our staff and our customers is allowing us to help seed a new school,” Christy said. “To give truly is better than to receive.”
By Christine Anderson
For the Times