Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wagey Drug a pharmacy fixture for decades

Published in Directions 2009, a special section of the Lincoln Journal-Star, February 22, 2009
Copyright 2009 Lincoln Journal Star. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

When H.C. Wagey opened Wagey Drug at 27th and Vine streets in 1924, the pharmacy had a hitching post and a trolley line in front.

Boys played football in the grass across the cobblestone street. In the '40s, '50s and '60s,the store's soda fountain was a favorite hangout for students from nearby Whittier Junior High School.In the 1980s, there were six Wagey Drugs in Lincoln,and ownership had transferred to H.C. Wagey's son,H.P.Wagey.

The other stores are now closed, and Gary Rihanek bought the 27th Street store from the Wagey family in 1991. The neighborhood is now one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the city, and the oldest independent pharmacy in town now competes with Walgreens, which moved in across the street in 2001.

Rihanek admits his first reaction was panic when he heard Walgreens was coming. Then he realized the chain's purpose was not to put independent pharmacies out of business, but to attract more customers, in the same way gas stations or fast food places are often next to each other.

"People know that there is a Wagey Drug and there is a Walgreens, and if one doesn't have it, the other will," Rihanek said.

Still, he responded by installing awnings and remodeling the store to fit in with the revamped neighborhood. He also competes by providing competitive prices, personal attention and extra services. A total of 37 staff members serves customers, including a fulltime receptionist and three office personnel to handle paperwork.

Pharmacists and technicians speak Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese.

Like many pharmacies, Wagey Drug provides free delivery, but its services go a step further. At no extra charge, staff will set up a week's worth of prescriptions for a customer, making it easy to get the right dose each time. For blind customers, he provides Script Talk, which verbalizes prescription information.

Wagey Drug also has been chosen to provide prescription services for several residential homes, drug treatment facilities and low-income programs, such as the Lancaster County General Assistance Program and the Peoples Health Center.

"I have similar values to what they're wanting to do," Rihanek said. "And that's to take care of people, to treat them with respect, not punish them because they're having a rough time in life."

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