By Connor Hoffman
Barbara Hayward and Stacy Swartz took a huge entrepreneurial leap of faith when they said no to big retail drug store giants over ten years ago. That was when they decided to open The Neighborhood Pharmacy, on 2204 Mount Vernon Avenue, in the heart of the burgeoning Del Ray district of Alexandria.
“We wanted to practice our way; we wanted to make the pharmacy experience as easy as possible for people,” explains Swartz.
With a welcoming dog bowl out front and a huge “Heart of Del Ray” winner sign in the window (the store won the coveted annual award in 2012), Hayward and Swartz are living up to their promise, and pride themselves on their personal relationships with customers.
Pre-pandemic, one would see Moms and Dads with children and pets casually chatting, filling prescriptions, stopping in to grab a birthday card or something for a headache or cold.
Swartz is masked as she reminisces about the store’s first real customer, “She came in with four or five prescriptions, and we were able to dig up some coupons and save her quite a bit of money.”
The customer subsequently moved to Texas but when she returned to the area a few years later, she sought out the Pharmacy again. Swartz says, “We work hard to build trust and genuinely try to save our customers money.” On any given day, Swartz and Hayward can be found compounding special prescriptions for babies and dogs that would cost much more in a retail pharmacy.
The Drug Dropoff Box with a Mission
The innovative pharmacy-owning pair also have a community-minded mission to mitigate a real public health crisis. According to the Virginia Health Department 2019 Fatal Drug Overdose report, the Commonwealth had over 1,600 drug overdose fatalities, 461 of those deaths attributed to prescription opioids.
They started one of the first prescription bottle drop-off boxes in the City, a place for people to safely dispose of expired or unnecessary medications. Becoming an official drug drop-off location was not easy, according to Swartz, since it had to be approved by the Pharmacy board and the DEA. But with the help of Alan Lomax, founding member of the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria and Chair of the Partnership’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria, the Neighborhood Pharmacy was able to get access to the program.
Now the people of Alexandria fill the pharmacy’s box two or three times a month. Swartz says she is very thankful for the Sheriff’s Department’s assistance in emptying the box. “This is the best example of a public-private partnership,” according to Swartz.
Since the pandemic, Swartz and Hayward have stayed open seven days a week, filling prescriptions in store, by home delivery, or at curbside.
Connor Hoffman is a local freelance teen reporter for The Zebra Press.