Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Heart Pharmacy, in Riverdale, opened on Feb. 14, 1970, but one of its owners, Marvin Griffin, Sr., insists the name is not a special nod to the fact that the business opened on Valentine's Day.
"We already had the name, Heart Pharmacy," he said. "It just happened that it came out on Valentine's Day."
The name actually comes from Griffin's personal motto. "My motto is 'Our guide is our heart,'" he said. "Our heart is our most important organ. We need it to live."
On Monday, the pharmacy's employees, including Griffin, celebrated the establishment's 40th anniversary. A banner was hung over the doorway to the pharmacy to commemorate the occasion, and employees were treated to steak-and-potato meals.
The pharmacy is not open on Sundays, so it was closed on the date of its actual anniversary this year.
Griffin and his wife, Christa, still own the business, and one of their original employees, Pharmacy Technician Ruth Wits, is still working there as well.
"We've been here for 40 years, and we love Riverdale and the people who live here," said Marvin Griffin, Sr.
Wits and the Griffins said they have seen the Riverdale area, particularly the Ga. Highway 85 corridor, grow over the years from a small community to an area full of businesses and bustling with activity.
The pharmacy has been at its present location, 706 Springdale Drive in Riverdale, since 1974, Christa Griffin said. Before that, the pharmacy was located nearby, on Ga. Highway 85, she said. At the time, the highway was only a two-lane road, she said. Now the road has six lanes.
"Back then, you could walk across there [the highway] and be all right," Christa Griffin said. "Now, you have to run across there and pray you don't get hit by a car."
"We've watched it [the city] grow," Wits added.
But Riverdale is not the only thing that has grown since Heart Pharmacy opened. The owners' son, Marvin Griffin, Jr., has grown up with the store and is now a manager.
He was 3 when the store opened.
"I've enjoyed growing up in this place," he said. "It's been a part of my life ... I've got a picture that somebody took when they were stocking the store, and getting it ready to open in 1970. I was asleep on one of the shelves, and they were painting the shelves. They just painted around me."
The biggest change the pharmacy has seen over the years, though, has been the introduction of computers for record-keeping purposes, Marvin Griffin, Sr., said. Before that, typewriters were used to fill out prescriptions cards, according to Wits.
Marvin Griffin, Sr., said that while other businesses around Heart Pharmacy have come and gone over the years, his business has been able to stick around by focusing on providing quality service to customers.
Wits said the pharmacy's employees have not gone through the decades without moments of pause, though. "Every time a new bigger, pharmacy opened, we'd wonder if they were going to put us out of business, but we've managed to survive," she said.
"I just always felt like if you treat people the way you would want to be treated, they'll keep coming back," Marvin Griffin, Sr., said.
Three pharmacists, including the elder Griffin, and a half dozen pharmacy technicians kept busy on Monday afternoon as customers came by to pick up their medicine.
"We try to get prescriptions filled in 15 minutes or less, if there's not many people waiting," Wits said.
Marvin Griffin, Sr., added, "You can't always please everybody -- but you can try."
Wits said the approach she takes is to be nice to all of her customers. Sometimes being nice can brighten their day a little bit, she said. "Sometimes, if a person comes in here bitter about something, if you are nice to them, they'll melt," she said.
As the pharmacy's employees celebrated 40 years of business, Jonesboro residents, Arthur and Dorothy Oaks, came by to offer congratulations to Marvin Griffin, Sr., and to present him with a gift. It was a handmade, red and white heart that was crocheted by Dorothy Oaks.
The couple has been coming to Heart Pharmacy since they moved to the area from Alabama in 2001, Arthur Oaks said. "I like the personal attention you get here, rather than feeling like you're just another customer who doesn't matter that much," he said.
"They are very good at what they do, they're very personable, and they're easily accessible if you need to ask them a question," Dorothy Oaks said.
Heart Pharmacy's owners are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the decades-old business. Marvin Griffin, Sr., said he foresees many more years of operation.
"I think we'll go another 40 years," he said. "You never know what God's got in store for you, but he's been good to me so far."