Celebrating 50 Years of Pharmacy

In the early 1970s, Bob Wegman was approached by pharmacist George Drechsler about adding pharmacy departments to Wegmans stores. After several conversations and consideration, George was hired to open the first Wegmans pharmacy counter at our Lyell Avenue store in Rochester, New York in 1972.

“We wanted to provide convenient, one-stop-shopping for customers, so adding a pharmacy to our stores just made sense,” said John Carlo, Wegmans senior vice president of pharmacy.

Innovations Through the Years
Since opening our first location 50 years ago, we’ve grown to operate 97 pharmacies in six states, and we’ve added many new services. The first prescriptions filled in our stores came directly from physicians, handwritten on notepads and delivered to our pharmacists by patients. As the industry changed, we added the convenience of refilling or transferring prescriptions by phone through our automated SmartFill service before rolling out an online option in 2002. In 2013, we provided the choice to have prescriptions delivered directly to customer’s homes and during the pandemic, we began offering curbside pickup for orders as well.

Immunizations in Our Stores, and Our Communities
One of the most notable changes we’ve made is providing immunizations in our stores. In the 90s, we piloted a program where licensed nurses administered flu shots to Wegmans customers and employees on specific days during the fall months. As regulations changed to allow pharmacists to dispense vaccinations, we started the necessary training needed to license our people. In 2010, we again offered customers the option to get their flu shot at Wegmans, but this time they were administered by our own pharmacists. We now offer many vaccination options in our stores including Shingrix, Pneumonia, Tdap, and COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

“Getting vaccinated is as easy as stopping by the pharmacy while you’re shopping at one of our stores,” said John. “Making vaccinations easy for our customers improves immunization rates in the communities we serve.”

Our people host dozens of vaccination clinics each year at our stores and in the community through our Pharmacy Business and Community Partnership Program. This program provides not only immunizations for employers or the general public, but also health screenings and other services. Over the years, we’ve provided information sessions and screenings on everything from diabetes, to breast cancer, to bone density. By partnering with local organizations and businesses we’ve been able to reach more people to share valuable information and provide immunizations.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, we partnered with Common Ground Health to host flu shot clinics for inner-city residents at local churches in Rochester. Through this program, we provided flu vaccines to city residents who might not have been able to access them otherwise.

“Sometimes we see that the barriers to receiving health care are insurmountable,” said Mike Scozzaro, Wegmans pharmacy compliance and regulatory relations manager. “By partnering with Common Ground Health and going into those churches, we removed those barriers and brought health care to them.”

Prescription Medication Drop-off Events
Part of operating a pharmacy is also ensuring that prescription medications are disposed of properly. Our stores often partner with local law enforcement or other agencies to host prescription drug disposal events. Since 2009, our Rochester division has gathered over 36,000 pounds of prescription drugs from more than 16,000 participants through these events, working together to keep our communities safe.

Customer Care
While our services have evolved over the years, our goal has always remained the same: to provide incredible customer service and care to all customers. Over the years, we’ve found creative ways to improve efficiency and serve our customers better. We opened our pharmacy call center in 2001 to assist our stores with routine phone calls they received, allowing our store teams to spend more time with customers who are in the store.

Pharmacy for All
We’ve also added a variety of in-store specialized services to ensure customers of all abilities can enjoy their pharmacy experience. These services include the Aira smartphone app for the visually impaired, hearing loops for customers with hearing impairments, American Sign Language and foreign language interpretation, large print prescription labels and more.

Our People in Action
Despite all the advancements we’ve made, we often hear from customers that our people are what truly make the difference. In 1998, a local newspaper wrote an article about a Wegmans Pharmacist that discovered a potentially life-threatening drug interaction while filling a prescription for a customer at the Lyell Ave. store. The pharmacist called the customer to explain the problem, and the matter was resolved before any harm was done. The customer wrote a letter to the thank the pharmacist for her quick work, saying in part: “Words or actions cannot say how much I appreciate what she did, and I have been trying to meet her personally to express my sincere gratitude for going the ‘extra mile’ or extending a ‘helping hand’ to me.”

More than 20 years later, a retired Army veteran came out of pandemic lockdown to celebrate his 101st birthday with one of our pharmacy employees. Beth Cassidy had been caring for John Bryan for nearly a decade at our Canandaigua store pharmacy and noticed John had a big birthday coming up. The staff rallied together to give John a birthday celebration he’d always remember.

Just last month, a family of Ukrainian refugees visited the Penfield store pharmacy to receive their COVID vaccines. Since they had just arrived in the country, their health insurance was still in process, so they planned to pay out of pocket. The pharmacy kept them at ease while administering their shots, picked up the tab for the vaccines, and provided the group with a $50 gift card to help them get on their feet.

The Future of Pharmacy
As we look forward to the next 50 years of our pharmacy business, we’re considering new ways to serve our customers. We’re working with our technology partners to provide a more streamlined communication path, as well as a new delivery option for our customers. Our goal is to assist our customers in living a healthier, better life based on their own health goals and preferences.

We’re also focused on preparing the next generation of pharmacists to serve our customers. In 2005, Robert Wegman made a $5 million donation to St. John Fisher College in Rochester to establish the Wegmans School of Pharmacy. The first pharmacy school in Monroe County opened in fall 2006 and hundreds of pharmacists have graduated over the years, going on to serve in hospitals, retail pharmacies, and our own stores.

“We are so proud of the role our pharmacy teams play in supporting the health of our communities,” said Colleen Wegman, president and CEO of Wegmans Food Markets. “The trusted relationships our employees build make such a meaningful difference. Congratulations to all on 50 years of Pharmacy at Wegmans.”

Wegmans Lyell Pharmacy - 2000
Diane Lawatsch, current pharmacy operations director, filling a prescription - 1980s
Wegmans Ridge Culver Pharmacy - 1980
Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher