When you call the pharmacy at Beaufort Drug Company, you will get an actual human on the line. No phone tree, no endless cycling Muzak – just the Southern drawl of pharmacist Jacob Dotson.
“I don’t understand where that kind of disconnected service ever became the norm,” said the leader behind the prescription counter at the newly opened William Pope Drive family business, just a stone’s throw from the Sun City “Food Lion gate” leading to the Towne Commons shops.
“Medicine is all about relationships and knowing your customers on a first-name basis and being familiar with their needs,” he said. “That’s what we love about Bluffton and the Lowcountry. Those relationships still matter here.”
Dotson and his family vacationed in the area for decades and found it to be similar to their hometown in eastern Kentucky. His Dad, Ron, was the school superintendent there for the last 10 years of his 30-year education career. Mom Judy worked alongside Ron for three decades as an administrator in the area school system.
Jacob married his middle school sweetheart, Megan. The couple have a 4-year-old daughter, Caroline, about to start school. With their parents at a life crossroads as well, the Dotson crew decided to tackle a new life adventure together by making a move to Bluffton a reality.
To do that, they ran a familiar playbook: Looking to the past to build the future.
Jacob cut his pharmaceutical teeth at the family’s first business, Holbrook Pharmacy, in Moorhead, Ky.
“We took over a pharmacy that had been part of the community for 50 years, where customers were neighbors, where conversations mattered,” Dotson said. “I’m so glad I learned the business that way. The big-box chains, it’s not the pharmacist’s fault; but we were just focused on setting a new expectation. We want to take them back to when that was the norm.”
Part of that time machine trip is the soda fountain at Beaufort Drug. The Dotson family were unanimous in the idea that this was a must to set the right tone from day one.
“It’s a symbol of what we are, what we aspire to,” Dotson said. “In the prime time of hometown pharmacies, it was the staple of the hometown drug store. And so we constantly see that when folks see the stools and the counter and the ice cream menu, they’re transported back to their childhood and a simpler time.”
There are other well-established and respected family pharmacies in Old Town Bluffton, but this is the first in the area to bring back the soda fountain. The Dotsons knew they wanted to serve milkshakes and ice cream, but they’re adapting to the requests of the early wave of customers from inside the Sun City gates.
“We’re making egg creams, ice cream sodas and malts now, too. If you have a recipe, and you can show us how it’s done, we will make it happen and put it on the menu,” Dotson said. Marv and Shelley’s Egg Cream and Fran’s Black and White Ice Cream Soda are both named after customer recipes. The featured milkshake for November is a pumpkin pie concoction suggested by customers.
Megan, Ron and Judy are slinging cream from behind the counter, while Jacob focuses on the pharmacy side of the business.
Judy has taken lead in crafting the makeup of the gift shop offerings. Dotson said the shop will feature mostly products from American-made, woman-owned businesses and will feature some Bluffton-focused merchandise as well as an assortment of sundries. Early brands being featured include Candleberry Candles, Stephanie Dawn handbags and Farm House Fresh skincare. The shop will also offer a variety of Hallmark greeting cards.
There will also be sections of the store dedicated to a seasonal theme, starting with the Christmas Corner dedicated to holiday wreaths and decorations.
“Just like with the pharmacy and the gift shop, we’re going to constantly be adjusting our offerings as our regulars let us know what they want to see more or less of,” Dotson said. “It’s really the magic of small business. The customers feel as much ownership in it as us, because it’s those relationships and that meeting of needs that make it truly work.”
Dotson said Beaufort Drug will offer vaccines and flu shots. They have been approved by the state to administer COVID vaccines, but are going through final credentialing before receiving the vaccine to distribute.
“We’ll keep folks updated on our Facebook page so they know when we have them,” Dotson said.
The pharmacy is contracted with all insurance plans, including TriCare.
“It levels the playing field for us. Patients will never pay anything more than any other pharmacy,” he said. “I joke with folks that you won’t pay more, but you’ll be more appreciated than at the big-box chains. I guarantee that.”
The pharmacy will also do compounding by request, mixing medications as requested by your physician.
Dotson said the family is doing all they can to reach out to the community, especially their immediate Sun City neighbors. Judy and Megan are running occasional ladies nights, with complimentary refreshments, door prizes and gift shop discounts.
“We are just so excited to be here and to start proving ourselves to this community,” Dotson said. “Everyone has been so welcoming. For Megan and I, in the first chapter of our lives together with our daughter, it’s especially exciting to prove to folks that we’re planting roots here. It’s all about gaining trust, and that happens one customer at a time.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.