According to Bill Quandt, owner of Hayek's Shorewood Pharmacy, 4001 N. Downer Ave., he often fields the same questions from people who want to know how his almost-100-year-old neighborhood drug store can compete with the big chains.
The question comes up so often, he has polished answers and even makes a joke about how good he has become at answering this seemingly burning question. But Quandt also acknowledges that it's a fair question, because so many mom-and-pop pharmacies have closed in the past decade or so, including the East Side's Oriental Pharmacy and Brady Street Pharmacy, both of which are just a couple of miles away from Hayek's.
But according to Quandt, there is a difference between his customers and the shoppers at other nearby pharmacies of the past. His customers, he says, truly need and appreciate very personalized service.
"We know our customers on a very personal level," he says.
Quandt, who graduated from South Division High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has worked as a pharmacist at Hayek's since 1970. He became a partial owner soon after getting the job and in 1975, became one of the partners. Today, he owns the business alone, but Matt Hayek, the third generation of the Hayek family to work in the store, serves as the bookkeeper and manager.
In 1918, Matt's grandfather, Ernest Hayek, took over the Wright Drugstore and renamed it Hayek Drugs. At the time, there was only one house on the block that would later become a well-populated residential neighborhood. Matt's father, Robert Hayek, was involved in the operation that became Hayek's Shorewood Pharmacy until 2000.
Nods to Hayek's history are showcased throughout the store. There's a root beer barrel from the soda fountain / ice cream parlor / lunch counter that existed in the '50s displayed in the liquor department and black-and-white photos near the register of the store in the '20s, '30s and '40s. There are also about 10 framed photos of Shorewood little league teams that Hayek's has sponsored over the last decade.
In general, Hayek's has a lot of old-school charm, from the neon signage on the building to the greeting card department lettering on the wall to the vintage candy selections that include Lemonheads, Swedish Fish, Smartees, Pop Rocks, Violet candies and Black Jack gum.
Hayek's modern-day success, according to Quandt, is due to the afore-mentioned level of service, particularly in the pharmacy.
"We're not so much about toothpaste and candy now, we're more medically oriented," he says. "The big chains took over our cosmetics and school supplies business, but our customers still really want personal attention and we give it to them. It's the best part of this job, having conversations with people and about their families and their health."
Quandt says that other reasons why his store has an edge on the big box chains is because they'll deliver items and prescriptions anywhere from the northern suburbs to Downtown and they still offer in-store charge accounts that allow people to carry a tab until the end of the month.
"We don't do this that often anymore, we've had to chase a few customers down in the past, but we still have them for some of our long-term customers," he says.
Small departments of items still exist at Hayek's, including the cosmetic, greeting card and school supplies departments. There's also a toy aisle with classic offerings like the game Don't Spill The Beans, squirt guns and dolls.
The store seems a little empty in some areas that have partially-stocked or unstocked shelves. And the shelves that are stocked have just a few of each item, rather then dozens like at larger stores. But because the store is clean and feels tended to – you won't find dusty items for sale – the limited products seem hand selected instead of old and forgotten.
"There's a different pace here," says Quandt. "I think we'll be able to stick around for a while. At least until our 100-year anniversary in 2018."
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.