Business owners Joe and Michelle Williams may be just what the doctor ordered for the economically challenged neighborhood where they have opened a new Pill Box Pharmacy. After spending more than $200,000 remodeling and restoring a building that was built in 1953, the couple recently opened their third Pill Box Pharmacy at 403 Bolton Avenue. The project took more than a year to complete. “It was a labor of love and it has exceeded all our expectations,” Joe says, grinning as he leans back in his chair at his office within the new pharmacy.
For years, the Bolton Avenue corridor around Monroe and Elliott streets has been neglected. Businesses have closed. But recently, some major improvements have begun in the area. The Williams are the first business owners to bring some new life to the heart of the Bolton Avenue corridor with the opening of the Pill Box Pharmacy. “We looked around South Alexandria and noticed there was not one pharmacy within a four-mile radius. It was a leap of faith for us, but we have had success in areas that have been ignored. We are hoping other business people will come down here and that it’ll start some commerce in the Bolton corridor. There’s a sense of pride in this community,” Joe adds.
The Pill Box Pharmacy building originally housed Guaranty Bank. Later, the building was converted to a Greyhound bus terminal. It sat vacant for about two years before the Williams bought the building. “It was the ugliest building I ever saw,” Michelle recalls. “But now it’s a modern, up-to-date, upscale building.”
Coinciding with the opening of the pharmacy, the city of Alexandria, through the Special Planned Activity Redevelopment Corridors Initiative, has completed part of a $2.5 million streetscape project on Bolton Avenue. The brick paved road, landscaping, sidewalks and bicycle lanes complement the changes to the former bank building. The Pill Box Pharmacy sits between the Bolton Avenue Community Center and the American Red Cross of Central Louisiana, which is located in the restored Cotton Brothers Bakery.
Recently, the Williams received a plaque which will be placed on a wall of the pharmacy that states the Pill Box Pharmacy structure building has been placed on the National Registry of Historical Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Glimpses of a different era are noticeable when walking through the new pharmacy. Guaranty Bank’s original brick walls serve as a reminder of a time past, and a vintage Greyhound sign stands sentinel by the bank’s old vault. Art deco floors feature over-the-counter shelves stocked with medicines, while reinforced glass and a state-of-the-art security system provide for the functional needs of the business. “This is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style building,” notes Michelle in describing the outside glass walls. It’s a perfect marriage of preservation and progress.
The couple says they always had plans to open another pharmacy, and learned the business by jumping in and experiencing it. “We learned by the seat of our pants what to do and what not to do,” laughs Joe.
Michelle, a pharmacist, first started working at a pharmacy after graduating from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 1987. She moved to Alexandria a year later to work as a pharmacist at K & B Drugs. Later, K & B was sold to Rite-Aid. For 19 years, Michelle worked for those two companies. It was while she was working at Rite-Aid her path would cross with Joe’s. “Joe was one of my customers while I was working at Rite Aid,” Michelle says.
For 35 years, Joe has served as a financial consultant with Lincoln Financial Advisors. After the two married, they decided they wanted to own their own pharmacy, and bought The Medicine Shoppe in 2007. By 2009, the Williams had bought out their franchise and moved its location. They came up with the name, Pill Box Pharmacy, and opened up a boutique pharmacy at 4740 Jackson St. Extension in Alexandria. Over time, they expanded their services, adding a drive-through to the pharmacy. “Old-fashioned customer service is what distinguishes us from the box chain store pharmacies,” Michelle says.
The Williams work closely with home health agencies and hospices, and have even been known to meet a nurse at 2:30am to fill a needed prescription for a hospice patient. “We’ve been out for dinner and Michelle will get a phone call from one of our customers asking for advice about an over-the-counter medicine or asking about a prescription. We know our customers by name. You call us, we will help you. That’s our niche,” Joe adds.
That kind of business approach has enabled the Williams to expand their business. In 2010, the couple opened a second Pill Box Pharmacy on 3rd St. in Alexandria. “I went to every house on 3rd St. and passed out flyers. They did not trust us at first, but now the community there has adopted us,” Joe says. The 400-square-foot pharmacy on 3rd St. will be relocated to the building that until recently housed the Martin Luther King Rapides Parish Library. The Williams recently purchased the building, which originally was another Guaranty Bank branch. The new Pill Box Pharmacy is expected to open in the fall. Inside the new pharmacy, the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department will lease a 400-square -foot office to house a sheriff’s substation, which will be open 24 hours a day. “Banks and pharmacies have a lot in common. They both need to be secure,” Joe says, adding that the narcotics will be securely locked away in the bank vaults at both locations.
The Pill Box pharmacies are open Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm. All three of the locations offer a drive-through service window and the special brand of customer service on which Joe and Michelle have always prided themselves!