Hillsboro's oldest business helps pull community out of pandemic
There's generally not a lot to do during the 15-minute observation period after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
But after getting a shot at the Hillsboro Pharmacy and Fountain, many people get a milkshake, and maybe a hot dog too.
Hillsboro's oldest business — a pharmacy, gift shop and restaurant serving ice cream to kids, and coffee and eggs to an aging group of regulars every morning — has been a community gathering place for decades.
Founded in 1873, Hillsboro Pharmacy was more than 40 years old when the last major airborne pandemic hit: the Spanish flu.
Now, it's helping pull the community out of this pandemic, having provided about 1,000 doses since first receiving vaccines two months ago.
And doing so is helping keep the iconic Hillsboro establishment afloat after a rough year for the restaurant business.
On Friday afternoon, May 28, pharmacist Evan Layton gave 30 shots.
Hillsboro Pharmacy owner Doug Johnson convinced Layton, who worked as the business' pharmacist for 30 years, to return from retirement specifically to be the designated shot-giver.
"I thought, 'Well, there goes my summer,'" Layton said with a laugh. "But I think it's very important that people get these shots."
One minute, manager Kathy Schmidlkofer was calling people to remind them they have their second dose coming up, and the next minute, she was taking sandwich orders from behind the counter.
"We're doing it the old-school way," Schmidlkofer said about the pharmacy's by-phone-only vaccine appointment scheduling.
The lack of online scheduling technology has been both anxiety-inducing — Schmidlkofer said she goes home and worries about whether she wrote down people's information correctly — and helpful in some ways.
Some people, including many of Hillsboro Pharmacy's elderly customers, found it difficult to make appointments for vaccines because they didn't have access to a computer, weren't tech-savvy enough or didn't have in-person help, Johnson said.
He has also taken shots directly to people who have mobility issues and don't live in care facilities where vaccines were already being provided, he said.
Donna Ford, who was back for her second Moderna dose Friday, said she was having trouble finding appointments online when her neighbor told her she could call Hillsboro Pharmacy and get on the list.
"They got me in within a week," Ford said. "It was like the most adorable thing, waiting at the soda fountain for my appointment. When I told my friends, they were like, 'What?'"
Intent on bolstering immunity in Hillsboro's downtown core and helping out service workers who were among the last to be eligible for the vaccine, Schmidlkofer created a list of people at nearby businesses who could come in on short notice if someone didn't show up for their second shot, Johnson said.
Providing vaccines has also been a critical financial boost for Hillsboro Pharmacy because, like many businesses, it saw sharp declines in revenue during the last year, he said.
"We knew that this was the best way to get us out this cloud we've been under for the past year," Johnson said, adding that sales at the soda fountain surged after starting to provide shots.
The hectic experience, as Johnson described it, of giving COVID-19 vaccines is somewhat of a last hurrah for him.
With earnest money placed by a buyer, Johnson, who took over Hillsboro Pharmacy in 1978, plans to sell the business soon.
"I've been here for 48 years, and so, it's like, I think it's time to do something else," he said. "I've been proud of that history that goes along with it."
While he can't tell the buyer what to do when the deal is finalized, Johnson said one of his goals was to find someone genuinely interested in preserving the business as a pharmacy and soda fountain.
Johnson is looking forward to being able to travel anywhere on a whim, he said, something he has never been able to do.
Once the U.S.-Canada border reopens, he and his wife plan to set out on a road trip across Canada, he said.
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