The best part about moving to a new city is discovering your places. There are personal places like your favorite room at home (the living room) or your preferred bus route (the 28), and then there are the notable ones: things you’ve never seen anywhere else, places you can’t wait to share with your friends.
I’m no stranger to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that Community Pharmacy is the most unique pharmacy I’ve ever encountered. Like most U.S. pharmacies, it sells a lot more than prescription drugs. Unlike most pharmacies, it’s owned by the people who work there; half of the store is devoted to natural remedies; and its goal is not to make money but to provide health care at the lowest possible cost. Plus, does your pharmacy stock feminist magazines and vegetarian cookbooks? Mine does!
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Scott Chojnacki to learn more about this Madison institution.
Founded in 1972 with a grant from the Wisconsin Student Association, Community Pharmacy was established to serve students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by providing the most affordable medications available.
Today Community Pharmacy strives to provide the most affordable health care possible to everyone in Madison. Scott explained how that philosophy shapes the pharmacy: “There’s a segment of customers that get their prescriptions and don’t really explore very much; they see us as your standard pharmacy. A lot of other people don’t even think of us as a pharmacy even though ‘pharmacy’ is in our name. They come in for supplements, herbs, and custom homeopathic formulas. Others come in for natural beauty and skin care products. The idea has always been to offer the biggest range of health options, and that’s what we aspire to do.”
Community Pharmacy is a workers’ cooperative. There is no CEO, no managers, and the store is run without hierarchies. Everyone who works there is part of a team that makes decisions collectively. And they take their role in the community seriously. If the staff believes a cause needs support, they discuss it at their monthly staff meeting and decide on a course of action. That’s how they decided to hang a Black Lives Matter sign in their front window.
Because no one is relying on the store to turn a profit, Community Pharmacy answers to its customers––not stockholders. Instead of asking “how much can we charge?,” they ask, “How little?”
That approach can have a huge impact. Before this interview, I didn’t realize how much power pharmacies have over the price of medicine, especially if a prescription is not covered by insurance. “We hear it from our customers,” Scott explained, “They’ll say, ‘Oh my God, I called Walgreens and they were going to charge me hundreds of dollars for this drug. You’re selling it for ten percent of that.’”
One of my favorite things to do is ask the workers at different stores and restaurants about their favorite products because I know that nobody knows the stuff better than they do. During our interview, I asked Scott to recommend some of his favorite Community Pharmacy products, and he got so excited that he ran out of the room and came back with his hands full.
1.“Suki exfoliate foaming cleanser is a cleanser and mild exfoliator that you can use every day. It’s my job to sample different products, but I can never get too far from this.”
2. “Veriditas is an essential oils company that only buys ingredients from cooperatives and only sells to cooperatives. Most people are familiar with the aromatherapy uses of lavender, but it’s also a great anti-inflammatory. This is my go-to with mosquito bites or if I give myself a little burn with the oven. It works so well at taking that pain away.”
3. “MegaFood has relationships with farmers that have exactly the kind of growing practices they appreciate, and with food-grown supplements, you’re getting the highest absorbability. Your body is able to process them so much better than synthetic vitamins.”
4. “If you like coconut and chocolate, you have to try Madécasse Toasted Coconut. It’s chocolate that has shaved coconut on the bottom. I buy this as a gift all the time, so people can know what the good life is.”
As for his favorite places in Madison, Scott recommends the botanic gardens: “I love Olbrich Gardens, which is a free garden for anybody to go to. Pick a day and spend an hour getting lost there. I am surprised every time with some plant that I missed before.”
Thank you, Scott, and thank you, Community Pharmacy!
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