57° F Wednesday, May 24, 2017
PHOTO BY DEVIN MONK  Lakeway Pharmacy owner Bennett Brooke, left, marks one of the last days of business Jan. 11 with, from left, Safeway Rx acquisitions specialist Michele Moore, pharmacists Lillie Thompson and Joey Cruz and pharmacy technician Isaac Jaimes.
PHOTO BY DEVIN MONK

Lakeway Pharmacy owner Bennett Brooke, left, marks one of the last days of business Jan. 11 with, from left, Safeway Rx acquisitions specialist Michele Moore, pharmacists Lillie Thompson and Joey Cruz and pharmacy technician Isaac Jaimes.

Doses of tears and hugs have alleviated some of the pain both staff and customers have experienced as Lakeway Pharmacy began closing its doors last week.

Prescription service ended Jan.10 as owner-pharmacist Bennett Brooke and pharmacists Lillie Thompson and Joey Cruz emptied shelves and said their goodbyes to customers who poured in to wish them well after decades of service.

The pharmacy opened in 1979 in Jim and Ann Gribbles’ Tejas Country Store. Then, it did business in a teller-sized space with just enough room for the pharmacists and medications.

“Lakeway was only a handful of people out here,” Brooke recalled.

He purchased the pharmacy in 1991 from Jim Bob Kriegl and expanded it to give staff more breathing room and add space for more inventory.

“You could just step in [to the store] and buy your groceries or what have you and step in here and get your pills and head out,” Brooke said.

When Tejas Country Store closed, the pharmacy stayed put.

Brooke brought his hometown pharmacy experience from Austin with him, which meshed with Cruz’ and Thompson’s personal touch. The trio has 149 years of combined pharmacy experience among them.

“They’ve been wonderful people out here, and we’ve enjoyed serving them,” Brooke said. “I just wish we had another 100 years to do it.”

When he received an offer for his client base, he mulled it over before breaking the news to his staff.

“A little angel was telling me, ‘You are getting to the end of the line, kid,’ ” Brooke said. “My lease was up here, I’m 88 years old, and Randall’s came and made me a pretty good offer – they wanted it. Things began to fall into place, and it was time for me to step down. It’s been a great journey.”

Cruz, who had worked with the pharmacy since 1988, said the pharmacy competed with the bigger chains and grocery stores by going the extra mile.

“I think our biggest selling point was our service,” he said. “That’s what people appreciated. That’s what kept us going.”

Over the years, the pharmacists have played a role in nurturing Lakeway as it grew into a full-fledged city, and the children of their customers blossomed into young adults.

“We’ve always opened regardless of the weather, whether it’s raining, snowing, freezing or whatever – the doors have never closed,” Brooke said.

Despite Lakeway’s population booming to 12,000 and its demographics changing from a retirement community to a bustling borough, the pharmacy maintained its personal touch.

“We knew everybody’s name when they walked through the door,” Brooke said. “They were all family, and if they needed anything, why Joey or Lillie would take care of it.”

Customers also would run into each other at the pharmacy and catch up on the latest news from friends and neighbors.

The pharmacy’s closing came as a blow to Lakeway resident Ann Neighbors, who had been a pharmacy customer since she moved here 13 years ago.

“I’m heartbroken,” Neighbors said. “You’d walk in, and it was like seeing a family member. Joey and Lillie were always so gracious and so friendly. I always felt like they bent over backward for every single customer that came in. They were wonderful people, and they will be sorely missed.”

Both Thompson and Cruz choked back emotions as they remembered their years in Lakeway serving fiercely loyal customers, many of whom stopped in to say farewell and bring food and flowers.

“They are hugging you around the neck and crying, too – that really gets you right here,” said Thompson who began working at the pharmacy one day a week in the late ’80s but has since taken on more of a full-time role.

Cruz confessed that he has struggled with the news.

“We’ve been crying,” Cruz confessed. “It’s like a death; it’s a great loss. It’s very difficult, but we’ll be OK. Some of my favorite memories have been getting to know the people. They would hug you and want to know how you’ve been. I just want to say to all our customers that their patronage and support are greatly appreciated.”

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