Passing the torch

Published 11:06 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

AHOSKIE – As Louis Mizelle pondered retirement, he was relentless in a quest to keep his business as an independent operation with small-town appeal.

Exactly who would assume leadership of Mizelle’s Discount Drug – a mainstay on the corner of Memorial Drive and Catherine Creek Road for 22 years – was a mystery.

“Gayle (Mizelle’s wife) and I, along with (fellow pharmacist and long-time friend) Bart Riddick and Charlotte (Riddick’s wife) wanted to pass Mizelle’s on to someone like us,” Louis stressed. “I didn’t want to sell out to a chain (pharmacy). That appears to have become the trend for family-owned and operated pharmacies. What happens after those types of sales is you see the staff size reduced to one pharmacist, one cashier and a couple of techs….everyone else is out of a job and the community loses that level of service they have grown accustomed to. The money they spend with a chain also goes out of town, instead of remaining here locally.”

Mizelle said once the word got out he was planning to retire, he fielded several offers from the chain pharmacies.

“It would have been an easy, fast sale….take the money and run kind of deal, but I didn’t want that,” he stressed. “Instead it was about finding the right fit to take over this business. We explored that in depth. I knew that when something felt right I would know it.”

As it turned out, “Mr. Right” was an Ahoskie native with years of pharmaceutical experience. Effective July 1, Art Minton and his wife, Doris, took over ownership of Mizelle’s Discount Drug.

Art is the son of Percy and Margie Rhea Harrell Minton. His dad, a native of Lewiston, was a former linotype operator for this newspaper and then went on to a career as the owner/operator of Minton’s Drycleaners on Ahoskie’s Main Street for over 30 years. His mother, a native of Colerain, was very active in the Ahoskie Women’s Club.

Minton graduated from Ahoskie High School in 1974. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1979.

Minton worked with CVS Pharmacy as well as managing a home infusion therapy business in both North Carolina and Illinois. However, the lure of his home state was too powerful to overcome as he moved back to North Carolina, working part-time with CVS in Raleigh.

“I was looking at that time to find a retail pharmacy operation that I could buy into or do a new start-up,” Minton said. “It didn’t materialize, so I went to work full-time with CVS. In 2009 an opportunity presented itself to open a start-up pharmacy in Wake Forest. Doris and I opened Village Pharmacy in Wake Forest and we’ve been voted as the Best Pharmacy there.”

“Art and I grew up together,” noted Mizelle, a 1972 grad of Ahoskie High and a ‘76 grad of UNC-CH with a BS in Pharmacy. “We were together in Boy Scouts, church, and school.”

“I can remember Louis having a newspaper (delivery) route,” Minton recalled. “I wanted to start one, and he was then in the process of giving his up so I took over his route.

“Then, later in high school, Louis was working part-time at Capp-Daniels (drug store) here in Ahoskie and when he went off to college I got his old job there. I guess you might say I tagged along behind Louis, and I still am; he’s passing the torch of the great business he’s built here in Ahoskie down to me.”

Adding to the Mizelle-Minton connection is Riddick. He is also an Ahoskie native, graduating from AHS in 1976 and then obtained a BS in Pharmacy from UNC-CH in 1981. He moved back to Ahoskie and worked at Capps-Daniels Drug and in the pharmacy at Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital before joining Mizelle’s Discount Drug in January of 1996.

“I think it’s neat that we’re all Ahoskie High graduates and UNC Pharmacy grads,” Riddick said. “It’s a natural fit….it’s a great partnership.”

Mizelle added that Minton would retain the services of all current employees at the business.

“And we will not change the name…it will continue to operate as Mizelle’s Discount Drug and at the same location,” Minton emphasized. “We promise to serve our customers, old and new, with the same work ethic and business philosophy of Louis Mizelle.”

“Bart will still be here working, which is important, but Art and David (Collins) will run the business,” Mizelle stated. “The remainder of the staff will remain intact with Gayle and I deep in the background.”

“It’s important that Mizelle’s will continue with five pharmacists on staff,” Riddick observed. “Nobody has that many pharmacists on staff. Louis built his reputation by having the necessary staff that are, number one, knowledgeable and capable, and, number two, working hard to ensure the prescriptions are filled accurately and quickly.”

“Our whole thing has been access to a pharmacist if a customer needed help or advice,” Mizelle said, “and we’ve always had an extra cashier or tech to get things done, and our staff have been exceptional over the years. All of our pharmacists are very caring and knowledgeable. We are both proud of our staff and most grateful for each of them.”

Collins, a native of Columbus County who has lived in Pendleton (Northampton County) for 30 years and once owned and operated Boykins Pharmacy just across the state line in Virginia, joined Mizelle’s earlier this year. He will remain at Mizelle’s as Pharmacy Manager.

“I’m accustomed to working at a small, independent pharmacy,” said Collins. “It’s great working with the other pharmacists here at Mizelle’s as we all have the same goal to put our customers first. Louis has built a great reputation here and I look forward to keeping that reputation alive. It’s very humbling and flattering for he and Art to name me as the Pharmacy Manager here.”

“We have valued the local community and our customers for a long, long time,” said Mizelle. “They allowed us to continue our business; they allowed us to grow. It was that mindset that led me to find people like Art and David….I strongly feel they will both continue to value the community and customers for years to come.”

Mizelle’s Discount Drug opened Nov. 14, 1994. Prior to that, Mizelle worked at Capps-Daniels and later managed the Mast Discount Drug location in Ahoskie.

“When Mast sold out to Revco, I saw right then that I didn’t want to be a chain pharmacist,” Mizelle stressed. “I worked for them for five and one-half months before opening my store.

“I give Hal Daniels (the now retired former owner of Capps-Daniels) credit for instilling in me the need for building strong relationships with your customers,” Mizelle added.

Even though he looks down the road towards retirement, Mizelle couldn’t help but to take a look back over his shoulder to see where he’s been.

“It’s humbling to look at the past; honestly when I first opened this store I didn’t know if I would survive,” he said.

“The people of Ahoskie and surrounding communities have been so good to me and my family. We’ve been so blessed; everyone has been so supportive…from the doctors we work with to our loyal customers. We are so, so grateful to our customers and the community for keeping our doors open for 22 years. I wish Art and the rest of this fantastic staff, who have also been supportive of my philosophy, the best of luck for years and years to come.”

Minton will share his time between Ahoskie and Wake Forest as he will maintain ownership in Village Pharmacy.

“I love small pharmacies; there you find the mindset of if a problem arises for a customer, we can solve it,” Minton said.

Meanwhile, Mizelle said he will remain busy in retirement, especially spending more time with his family.

“I’ll miss this work family and my customers on a day-to-day basis, but I promise everyone that the beat will go on at the store just like I wanted it, locally owned and operated,” Mizelle concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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