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Despite neighborhood changes, Economy Drug Store remains an integral part of the Frenchtown Community

A woman sits smiling in a drugstore.
Tom Flanigan
Economy Drug Store Owner/Proprietor Alexis Roberts McMillan

Big national drugstore chains might seem to have taken over the industry. But it appears that old-fashioned, independent pharmacies are very much alive in Florida’s Capital City. Here’s WFSU's first in a series of stories about the community’s hometown drug stores.

If you happen to stroll into the little storefront at 319 North Macomb Street, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with this cheerful lady.

“Alexis Roberts McMillan here at the Economy Drug Store in Frenchtown.”

It’s an enterprise that has been in her family for nearly three-quarters of a century.

“My dad and his colleague bought it in 1951 from the Jimerson family, so we’ve been here for quite some time.”

But much has changed since 1951. The most obvious change is the explosive growth of giant chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. And even supermarkets like Publix and retail monster Walmart have on-site pharmacies of their own. With a tiny store footprint and no volume buying power, Roberts McMillan said there’s a word for what it takes for a drug store like hers to compete.

“Stubborn! Stubborn. Just plain stubbornness. It takes a lot of waiting to see if there’s something extra that we can do for someone that they may not get at what I call those big box stores.”

Surprisingly, Roberts McMillan said customers will sometimes show up at her place, saying one of the big chains had actually given them a referral.

“We went to one of these big box stores and I was told, ‘You can’t find that here, but go to Economy Drug Store.' I love hearing that! I just love that to death. So every once in a while that will happen."

Because Economy Drug Store has been a critical part of the community for so long, Roberts McMillan said multi-generational customer loyalty is a huge factor in keeping the business viable. She said that even includes families that moved out of Frenchtown long ago.

"We do see still that granddaughter, grandson, nephew or niece who will come and say, 'Aunt so-and-so, or grandma such-and-such used to come here during the cold season,' and they would make sure that they would pay attention to whatever it was that my dad was going to suggest to them. So we have to be the conduit that still trying to do that."

That longevity and unbroken connection to customers and community, she said, is what has kept Economy Drug Store going.

"We love being able to be that neighborhood spot that you can go to. We may no longer have the jukebox in the pharmacy that we did when I was a child. We don't have the soda fountain any longer or the comic books. But we definitely try to remember and acknowledge that we are seeing another generation of that family that I may have grown up with. We do see that and we're glad about that."

There's also a new generation of pharmacists-in-training that Roberts McMillan explained are using the venerable Economy Drug Store as a career launching pad.

"Students have to have so many hours of volunteerism in a pharmacy. So we're glad to be able to help people in that manner, shape or form. And we get students, not only from Florida A&M, but also the University of Florida."

In the end, despite the many challenges of being a tiny, stand-alone enterprise amid the giant chains, Alexis Roberts McMillan is hopeful that Frenchtown's Economy Drug Store will quietly continue as it has for so long.

"We are just looking forward - again - to being here and not going anywhere. We like it and we hope people will come in and shop with us."

Our next journey, in our series of visits to Tallahassee's hometown drug stores, will take us out Mahan Drive to the Eastwood Pharmacy.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories. here.