by Ken Horner
It takes less than 10 seconds for a woman walking by the small aisles of cough syrup, Tylenol and multivitamins to hear a man call out from behind the counter.
“How’re you doing today, Vivian? Your prescription’s all ready.”
As Vivian gets ready to pay for her medicine, she adds a bag of Swedish fish to her purchase. Fred Weissberger, Chestnut Hill Pharmacy’s newest employee, jokes that she better hide the candied red fish from her husband, and both share a laugh before saying their goodbyes.
Although Weissberger, 67, only began his job at the Chestnut Hill Pharmacy, 8030 Germantown Ave., on July 25, he is no stranger to life and business on the Hill.
“I really haven’t left the block,” the bespectacled Weissberger, who boasts 42 years of pharmacy experience, said. “The only difference is now I have to cross the street.”
Weissberger, a registered pharmacist and resident of nearby Flourtown, has been a prominent figure in local, independent pharmacies in Chestnut Hill since his days at the now defunct C. N. Reese Pharmacist and Reese Pharmacy, both of which stood on the opposite side of Germantown Avenue from Chestnut Hill Pharmacy’s current location.
Following a recent two-year stint, working at an independent pharmacy in King of Prussia that has since closed, Weissberger decided to return to the roots of his pharmacy career.
And by the sound of it, the transition back to the Hill hasn’t required any headache medicine.
“I’ve only been here four days, but I know 50 percent of the people who walk in, which makes life a whole lot easier,” Weissberger said.
Although the pharmacist might be older now, joking that his loss of hair could easily give that fact away, you can’t tell by his youthful enthusiasm when he stresses the importance of local pharmacies and independent businesses, especially those in Chestnut Hill.
“We’re here,” Weissberger said. “We’re local. Our help is local, and we’re active in the community.”
He made it known that local establishments like Chestnut Hill Pharmacy are just as competitive as chain stores, claiming that customers can receive their prescriptions at exactly the same price if they are insured and can get a comparable and competitive price if paying without it.
For Weissberger, it comes down to a few factors and a simple question: “What’s your time worth?”
“That’s what is great about Chestnut Hill,” Weissberger said. “When you don’t have to get into your car, that’s great. You can walk or hop on a bike to come here, and while you might spend a little more, you need to think about what it would cost to drive a car somewhere else.”
He said the strongest principle powering local pharmacies was “the personal touch.”
“Customers can get good personal service,” he said. “You’re a part of the neighborhood. You know most of the people after a while. You have name recognition with the people. If the customer needs counseling, you offer it.”
Weissberger even admitted to giving his home phone number to customers in case of emergencies or situations where they need his advice – grinning as he reported that the privilege, thankfully, has never been abused by those who call.
Although it isn’t difficult to see that Weissberger is extremely knowledgeable in dealing with a specific and local clientele, it has been a long road for him to get to this point.
Weissberger began his career as a 20-something at C. N. Reese Pharmacist, where he spent six years – one as a student and the next five as a registered pharmacist. He then transferred his skills up the Avenue to Reese Pharmacy where he split 36 years as owner, part-owner and staff pharmacist.
After 16 years as owner of Reese Pharmacy, Weissberger sold the pharmacy to two men who in his eyes never could grasp what it takes to maintain a local business.
“The new owners never got active in the community,” Weissberger said. “They had no concept of the area and never realized that each area is different and should be treated that way. When you don’t cater to people, you lose them.”
If you catch Weissberger peering across the street at 8039 Germantown Ave., the former home of Reese Pharmacy where now stands the two-story office of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, it is easy to sense in him a tinge of annoyance – not exactly at what happened during his final days at Reese, but at what he knew the residents of Chestnut Hill would be missing when the local pharmacy closed.
While he is modest about his role as a community figure, chalking it up mostly to duty, it was clear that he had been missed by residents when he left in 2008.
In a letter to the Local published in May 2008, Dr. Chester E. Smith summed up the sentiments of the Hill community: “Fred is the finest example of human compassion and kindness. He is the epitome of what a pharmacist should be. What we as a community will miss along with his pharmaceutical expertise is his caring spirit, honesty and consistent humor.”
The pharmacist may have been offering his services in a different ZIP code, but he claims to never really have been away.
“I kept in touch with the people in the area,” said Weissberger, who remained active in the surrounding community, continuing to serve as a member of Chestnut Hill Hospital’s Patient Safety Committee and to run a Special Olympics swimming program at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.
When Chestnut Hill Pharmacy opened its doors this past November, Weissberger made it a point to keep in contact with owner Mark Lawson, R.Ph., in case a need or opportunity presented itself for his return, which it eventually did.
Now, Weissberger, who lives with his wife, Myra, and son Brett, appears as happy and content as ever to be back in Chestnut Hill – with no clue about a possible retirement at any point in the future showing through his smile.
“As long as I feel capable and I can contribute to what I’m doing, and I’m still able to work for an independent, I’ll still keep working.”