At first glance, Parks Pharmacy in North Augusta seems like any other drugstore. Telephones are ringing, and pharmacists and technicians are bustling behind the counter to fill prescriptions.
Owner and pharmacist Steve McElmurray said employees are there for each other during good and bad times. They celebrate birthdays, weddings and the birth of children. One of the pharmacists is expecting a baby soon, and the staff recently discussed when to have her baby shower.
Mr. McElmurray has worked to foster a family atmosphere.
"Everybody here is like family to each other. Not like at a chain where you walk in, do your hours and leave," he said.
Founded in 1961, Parks Pharmacy on Georgia Avenue provides prescription services, specialty compounding and delivery services. It also sells medical equipment and supplies. Mr. McElmurray has owned the pharmacy for 23 years. He bought it from its original owner, George Parks.
"We laugh together, and we cry together. We're a family. We're that way with customers, too," said June Faglier, a pharmacy technician who has worked at Parks Pharmacy for 15 years.
It's not uncommon for customers to burst into tears because they're not feeling well. Ms. Faglier is there to comfort them. Her job is to work with prescriptions, but she loves interacting with customers.
Hanging above the pharmacy's drive-through window is a sign: "Because nice matters."
"He's a unique kind of boss," said bookkeeper Cat Moman, a 12-year employee. "There's not many like him. He's caring. He really and truly cares about us and the community. Any time we have a problem, he's there to help us."
Ms. Faglier, now 75, said that Parks Pharmacy has three employees in their 70s.
"That speaks volumes of Steve. We're not too old to be put out to pasture yet. We still have some worth," she said.
Mr. McElmurray said that he enjoys running a pharmacy because he loves helping people.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, you know they're going to be feeling better or have a better life if they do what you tell them and if they take their medicine correctly," he said.
Parks Pharmacy also has four-legged customers. The pharmacy does specialty compounding for dogs, cats and birds.
Mr. McElmurray doesn't have high-tech machines to assist with counting.
"We still hand-count, especially narcotics and controlled substances. Some people say that we're old-fashioned because we don't have a robot," he said.
Because of its smaller size, the pharmacy doesn't have the buying power of large chain stores. It normally buys about three of an item at a time, unless there's a high demand.
Mr. McElmurray works with other small companies, such as South Carolina-based Basic Vitamins.
"Just because we're small doesn't mean we're not competitive," Ms. Faglier said.
The pharmacy also offers personalized service by mailing prescriptions to customers' homes.
"If you're an independent store, you can still do those things. It's just a different ball game. We're the last of a dying breed," Ms. Faglier said.
Shopping at Parks Pharmacy is a family tradition for many.
"We are now treating probably the grandchildren of people that were originally customers when I came here," he said.
His employees are also there for the long haul. Laura Knotts has worked for Mr. McElmurray since she was 15 years old. Twenty years later, she is one of his pharmacists. She can't imagine working anywhere else.
"I like the atmosphere there -- that everybody cares about what's going on with one another," Ms. Knotts said. "That extends to our customers. Steve has always been there when something has gone on in my life. I can't say that many people have the opportunity to work in a place where that's been the case. He's just a very generous and giving man."
Matthew Kornegay started working for Mr. McElmurray when he was a sophomore in high school. He worked at Parks Pharmacy for 10 years.
When Dr. Kornegay decided that he wanted to attend medical school, he didn't know how to break the news to Mr. McElmurray.
"He had invested a lot of time in me personally. It was almost like telling your dad that you're not going to take over his family business," Dr. Kornegay said.
Mr. McElmurray has offered support to Dr. Kornegay during difficult times in his life, such as the death of his father when he was only 18.
"Steve's a part of my family. I think he's set an excellent example of a businessman, serving customers well ... and realizing that it's the care that you give that's going to bring somebody back to you," he said.
Mr. McElmurray and his older brother, Harold, grew up in Augusta. His father, William H. McElmurray, was a General Motors dealer in Aiken and a John Deere farm equipment dealer in Augusta and Aiken, Johnston and Newberry, S.C. His mother, Laurie, was a stay-at-home mother.
His father inspired him to one day own his own business.
By the time Mr. McElmurray graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to become a pharmacist. His great-uncle, R.E. Blanchard, was a pharmacist at King's Way Pharmacy, and Mr. McElmurray worked with him during his school years.
"He would let me pack capsules when I could reach the counter. He would put out flour and let me play like I was packing capsules. I learned to like it doing that, so that's what I wanted to do," he recalled.
Mr. McElmurray was also deeply influenced by a paraplegic uncle who lived with the family.
"He encouraged you to always do the best you could do. Even though he was a paraplegic, he hunted, fished and drove his own car. And that was in the '50s and '60s, so that was sort of unheard of back then for somebody like that to do," he said.
During college, Mr. McElmurray took time off to work at pharmacies at the Medical College of Georgia and Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta to make sure he wanted to pursue the career.
He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1974. His first job was at Langley Drug Co in Langley, where he worked until 1979.
One night, he was at church and heard that the pharmacist at Parks Pharmacy was planning to quit to attend a mission trip. Mr. McElmurray had known the owner, Mr. Parks, for years and always wanted to work for him.
He approached Mr. Parks, who told him that if this was true, Mr. McElmurray would be the first person he'd call to fill the job. He landed the job in August 1979.
In January 1986, Mr. McElmurray purchased Parks Pharmacy.
Mr. McElmurray never considered changing the name of the business. He kept it as Parks Pharmacy to show his respect for Mr. Parks. He has worked hard to uphold Parks Pharmacy's superior reputation.
"He's always been a leader in the community. It gave me something to strive for," he said.
During Mr. McElmurray's leadership, the pharmacy's staff has grown to 17 workers, both full time and part time. There are three pharmacists, in addition to himself. He also has two certified pharmacy technicians and two registered pharmacy technicians.
"I don't have much turnover. The pharmacists have been here 17, 15 and 14 years," he said.
Other staffers also have worked there about 15 years.
His biggest challenge is competition from the 11 chain drug stores within 2 miles of his business. Unlike most pharmacies, Parks Pharmacy isn't open on nights and only has a few hours on Saturdays, though customers can always call the emergency pharmacist on-duty. Mr. McElmurray said that he wants his staff to have time for their families.
He relies on his faith to guide him as a business owner.
"You hope the Lord is going to lead you down the right path to make the right decisions. That he's going to help you make the right choices to be able to pay your people and do your best in business," he said.
Mr. McElmurray received the Bowl of Hygeia award in 2004 for excellence in business.
"There's only one given per state, per year. It's given for your community involvement and pharmacy work. I was pretty excited about that because George (Parks) had won it about 20 years before," he said.
In January, Parks Pharmacy received the Award of Accreditation from the Healthcare Quality Association, which indicates that a home health medical equipment company demonstrates a high level of quality practices.
Mr. Parks still stops by to say hello or get his prescriptions filled. He considers Mr. McElmurray a "very talented man." Parks Pharmacy is the only remaining independent pharmacy in the North Augusta area.
"(I knew) it was going to be very difficult to find someone smart enough and dedicated enough to try to make the business keep growing," Mr. Parks said. "It had to be somebody really on the ball because every grocery store now has a prescription department and every chain that you can think of is in town. The competition is about as stiff as anything could be.
"I realized that Steve was that kind of person that could run the store and make it grow and be an asset to the community. It's something when you're able to withstand all that. He's a factor in the prescription business in North Augusta."
Mr. McElmurray enjoys his service on the Aiken County Foster Care Review Board.
"It's a very rewarding job. You're protecting these young, small lives from being thrown right back into an abusive situation," he said.
He's also a member of the Sertoma Club, which focuses on service to mankind.
"Any money we raise goes back into the community, usually in the form of scholarships or to speech and hearing patients at University Hospital. We usually give about $50,000 back to the community every year," he said.
Mr. McElmurray is always giving back to others, said longtime friend Eddie Wilson.
"He's probably one of the most generous people that I've ever met. He really puts others ahead of himself, which is unusual in this day and time for successful people. I think that's why he's successful," Mr. Wilson said. "There have been times when it's been tough for him, but now I think it's all coming together. It's good to see one of the good guys win."
Dr. Gary Redding, Mr. McElmurray's pastor at First Baptist Church of North Augusta, has known him for 21 years.
"I've watched that business as it has expanded under Steve's proprietorship. People know him and trust him. He has a very fine reputation for doing what's right and being fair in all of his business dealings. People have a great deal of confidence in Steve because he's a person of integrity," he said.
Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TITLE: Owner and pharmacist at Parks Pharmacy, in North Augusta
BORN: July 14, 1948, in Augusta
EDUCATION: Augusta College, pre-pharmacy studies; transferred to University of Georgia School of Pharmacy, bachelor of science degree in pharmacy
CIVIC/EXTRACURRICULAR: Sertoma Club of North Augusta, member for 25 years and previous Sertoman of the Year; North Augusta Chamber of Commerce; Aiken County Commission for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, member for 19 years; Aiken County Foster Care Review Board, member for 12 years; Cardinal Health, member of the regional and national retail advisory board; past North Augusta Business Person of the Year; past Aiken Business Person of the Year; North Augusta Citizen of the year; Bowl of Hygeia pharmacy award; state and local pharmacy associations, member
HOBBIES: Visiting the beach, lake and mountains