Building Community Trust as a Family
Whether in front of a chalkboard or behind the pharmacy counter, Darius Russell has dedicated his professional life to serving others. His second act as an independent pharmacy owner is one he shares with his closest family members, all of whom help run Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe in Durham, NC. We recently spoke with Russell about his journey from educator to pharmacist, his pharmacy’s presence in a previously underserved community, and his view on independent pharmacy playing a key role in curbing the pandemic.
Darius Russell’s path to community pharmacy owner isn’t a traditional one. Russell’s first act as an educator began in Atlanta, GA where he graduated from Morehouse College, then served as a teacher for six years in the Atlanta metro area. Toward the end of that six-year stretch, major life changes began to unfold. He bought a home with his wife, Terensia, they had their first child, and Terensia became a stay-at-home mom.
To help supplement his teacher salary, Russell took a second job at a local pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. During this time, he was also becoming increasingly dissatisfied with bureaucratic issues within the school system. Aware of this, Russell’s pharmacist-in-charge encouraged him to pursue a new path.
“The pharmacist was a really great pharmacist,” Russell said. “She would push me to do more, and do more, and do more.”
“It seemed like independent pharmacists had a great impact on people.”
Not long after, the Russells returned to their native North Carolina, planting roots in Durham. Due to its close proximity, Russell applied to the UNC-School of Pharmacy, where he would eventually earn his degree in 2006. While in school, he decided he’d like to own his own pharmacy someday.
“It seemed like independent pharmacists had a great impact on people,” Russell said. “They had a lot of great interactions with the community.”
Gaining experience with an independent pharmacy immediately after school proved to be difficult. Russell spent two years with a small chain before landing a job with an independent pharmacy, where he gained a decade’s worth of invaluable experience. By 2018, Russell was ready.
“I said, ‘I want to do this, I’m getting older. I definitely don’t want to do it when I’m 50 or older,’” Russell explained.
Around this time, a woman from the Russells’ church with a real estate background heard he was looking to open a local pharmacy. She wanted to see a pharmacy open in an underserved part of Durham, the same community the Russells were targeting. They ultimately partnered together and opened Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe in November 2018. The community resides in what some might consider a “pharmacy desert” and his store has been well-received.
“A lot of people in the area represent a lower-income, historically marginalized population of black and brown people,” Russell said. “A lot of people rely on mass transit and being local. People have wanted the community to have a pharmacy for years.”
Despite the need, getting people through the door remains a challenge for the young pharmacy.
“I had a consultant tell me you have to see a name or place about seven times before someone even recognizes you exist,” Russell said. “Then it takes another several times for them to make a decision to want to come into that establishment.”
Those who have sampled the family pharmacy have offered rave reviews, literally. The store has a five-star Google rating from 25 reviews.
The trust Russell and his family are building with the community will be instrumental when they are able to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. He cites past events like the Tuskegee Project and sterilization programs as understandable hurdles with communities when discussing vaccines.
“I have people coming in and asking questions,” Russell said. “I think that trust is being built up.”
“There are a lot of community pharmacies that have been working tremendously hard setting up scheduling, administering the vaccine, while managing all of the other processes. There’s a flow.”
Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe plans to play a key role in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to its community. Russell feels independent pharmacies are the ideal vehicle for helping end the pandemic, given their experience with administering enhanced pharmaceutical care.
“I think a lot of pharmacies have done really well at being able to disseminate or administer vaccinations, whether it be shingles vaccines, seasonal flu vaccines, pneumonia, just all kinds of vaccinations,” Russell said. “There are a lot of community pharmacies that have been working tremendously hard setting up scheduling, administering the vaccine, while managing all of the other processes. There’s a flow.”
Russell’s Pharmacy and Shoppe has filed all of the paperwork to distribute the vaccine, including enrolling with state and federal agencies. As of this writing, Russell and his staff are just waiting to be activated by the state so they can start ordering vaccines.
“We are set, ready to go, and eager to be able to start vaccinating,” Russell said.
The “we” Russell refers to includes his wife, kids, and in-laws. He loves being able to serve his community alongside his closest family members.
“We have a family business, it’s great,” Russell said. “We have my wife’s parents who work with us, we’ve had our kids work here. It’s a great win-win situation.”
The community of East Durham is fortunate to have a caring family committed to taking care of them.
Learn more about Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe by visiting their website.