Thursday, July 19th, 2018

S Shopper Stories


Old-fashioned lunch counter, modern pharmacy offers healthy doses of service and nostalgia

by Allison T. Williams

Owner and pharmacist Joe Campbell seated at Irwin’s vintage luncheon counter.

Owner and pharmacist Joe Campbell seated at Irwin’s vintage luncheon counter.

In today’s chaotic, detached retail world Irwin’s Pharmacy is a breath of fresh air.

The thriving Chesapeake pharmacy - a fixture on East Indian River Road since the mid-1950s — is a nostalgic landmark that keeps alive traditions that have fallen by the wayside at most “big-box” drugstores.

“In many ways, we haven’t changed much,” Dr. Joe Campbell explains, pharmacist and owner of Irwin’s Pharmacy since 2014. The pharmacy itself has the latest high-tech equipment to serve patients.

But he believes one of Irwin’s biggest attractions is its lunch counter with a classic soda fountain, which has served generations of families over the decades. The lunch counter has enjoyed a revival of sorts since Dr. Campbell bought the drugstore and hired manager Stephen Grover to oversee its day-to-day operation.

“The diner itself has become a destination again,” Dr. Campbell says, grinning as he gestures toward a countertop jukebox, line of barstools and handful of cozy booths in the back corner of the pharmacy.

“Although we’re seeing more young people come into the diner, we mostly see older adults come in who like the nostalgia of the place,” he says. “We have some people who come in twice a day, for breakfast and dinner.”

Customers will find traditional – and tasty – breakfast and lunch fare: burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, soups and sandwiches, and daily blue plate specials such as roast pork tenderloin or meatloaf.

Diners can expect fresh, homemade, even award-winning cooking. In fact, in 2016 Irwin’s won fourth place in the East Coast She Crab Soup Classic, a competition sponsored by the Culinary Institute of Virginia in 2016. And Irwin’s thick, hand-crafted milkshake was awarded second place in all of Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot’s Taste Test judges.

But it may be the fountain’s fresh, hand-squeezed lemonade and limeade that most strikes a chord with his generation, Jim Overton attests, a former member of the Chesapeake City Council, retired businessman and daily diner at Irwin’s for most of the past 34 years.

“They used to be the featured drinks of soda fountains,” Jim adds. “I think these drinks — and lunch counters in drug stores like this — appeal to a lot of older people. They bring back a lot of memories.”

As a loyal customer for decades, he has seen the pharmacy’s lunch counter business ebb and flow over the years.

“Thirty years ago, there were times between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. that you couldn’t even get a seat for lunch,” he says. “Things slowed down … but over the last two years, it has really made a comeback.”

Dr. Campbell, who hails from a small town in Pennsylvania, and his wife, Jodi, also a pharmacist, met while attending pharmacy school at Shenandoah University in Winchester. Shortly after graduating in 2010, they married, were both offered jobs with CVS and moved to Hampton Roads. Today, the couple has 2-year-old twin boys, Everett and Walker.

Founded in 1934 by Dr. William Irwin, Irwin’s Pharmacy moved to its current location in the mid-1950s. Dr. Campbell bought the pharmacy from previous owner, pharmacist Larry Barlow.

“I wanted a place where I could make a greater personal connection,” Dr. Campbell explains.

At Irwin’s, Dr. Campbell and his staff of 24 greet customers by name and make it a point to chat with them about their children or happenings in their lives.

Many customers have been faithful Irwin’s patrons for five or six generations, something that Dr. Campbell doesn’t take for granted.

“We are trying to build and grow the business by maintaining this family-like atmosphere and the personal, local connections,” Dr. Campbell notes. “We are nothing without our patrons. It’s a team effort. We support them and they support us.”

Unlike most pharmacies today, Irwin’s does not have a drive-through window.

And while he knows many customers might initially perceive that as an inconvenience, he sees it as a positive.

“When people leave here,
I want them to feel better about their day,
better about themselves and
that their health is in good hands.
I want them to know that I am
as invested in their health as they are.”

—Dr. Joe Campbell

“I think drive-through windows have made pharmacies impersonal over the years,” Dr. Campbell affirms, noting that Irwin’s enthusiastically promotes its offer to deliver prescriptions anywhere in Hampton Roads for free.

Irwin’s has four delivery drivers and a delivery area that spans from the Peninsula to Suffolk and Virginia Beach. Dr. Campbell estimates that 40 percent of his prescriptions are delivered to customers’ homes or offices.

For customers who prefer to stop by the store but can’t easily leave their vehicles, Irwin’s employees are happy to run orders outside to customers who call upon arrival.

“We are a service industry,” Dr. Campbell asserts. “We are here to serve and make your life easier. If that means sending a driver to your house at 7 p.m. because your child has a fever, we do it,” he says. “There is no limit. If you need it, we will bring it to you.”

Irwin’s is one of only a handful of local drugstores that offers prescription compounding, a process in which the pharmacist works with the physician to formulate a customized prescription for a patient.

“A traditional dosage doesn’t always work for everyone,” Dr. Campbell says. “The beauty of compounding is that we can change how it is prepared or the dosage to specifically address our patient’s individual needs.”

Irwin’s shelves are stocked with the usual plethora of cold, allergy and headache over-the-counter medications. But classic, seldom-seen remedies are mixed in amongst the more commonplace cures: Father John’s Cough Suppressant, Creomulsion, black salve and lye soap.

Dr. Campbell is happy to work with customers limited by financial constraints by setting up charge accounts. Any customer who would like to set up an account can just drop by the store and talk with him about their medications and regular payment arrangements that will work within their budgets.

Occasionally, Dr. Campbell is able to solve the problem by calling the doctor and asking for a different medication that the patient’s insurance covers.

Irwin’s also offers services such as administering flu shots and immunizations, and carries a wide selection of products, including durable medical supplies, gifts, toys, greeting cards, and school supplies.

 “When people leave here, I want them to feel better about their day, better about themselves and that their health is in good hands,” Dr. Campbell emphasizes. “I want them to know that I am as invested in their health as they are.”

Irwin’s Pharmacy

4300 E. Indian River Rd
Chesapeake , VA 23325