By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – When South Park Pharmacy opened its doors back in 1968, Nancy Lyman was the first person to get a prescription filled. Before the pharmacy shut down last Thursday after serving Port Orchard for 53 years, Lyman insisted that the final prescription filled at the venerable institution be hers.
Pharmacist Ken Paskett was happy to oblige the long-time customer’s request. Meanwhile, generations of clientele from throughout South Kitsap were heartbroken that the locally owned family pharmacy at South Park Village was closing down.
Some of the business’s regulars posted comments about the closure on Facebook:
“This is the saddest news. You have been so much more than just a pharmacy to my family.”
“Thank you for all those loving years that you put your heart and soul into this community.”
“You are the last store of my childhood in P.O. South Park Pharmacy will truly be missed.”
“We bought so many gifts in your store, used the post office endlessly, and now and again, even bought a bottle or two of booze.”
“I got my sweet 16 tiara from you guys and you’re the only place I can find that sells black licorice from New Zealand.”
“If there were “pharmacy heroes,” it would be you! Hoping you enjoy what’s next.”
“One of the last of the hometown businesses left around, you’ll be missed.”
Reading the tributes was heartwarming for the 80-year-old Paskett.
“It makes me feel like I’ve done a good job,” the silver-haired pharmacist said. “It’s so neat to hear that, but it’s kind of sad because I don’t want it to end.”
Over the years, the pharmacy was more than just a place to fill a prescription. Customers could also buy just the right birthday card from the greeting card selection, purchase a gift, pick up spirits from the liquor section, pay bills at the utilities pay station, and use the store’s post office sub-station.
People enjoyed browsing the unique gift section that featured everything from puzzles and jewelry to incense and figurines, along with Seahawks, Cougars and Huskies sportswear. Those with a sweet tooth loved the big candy aisle that featured hard-to-get nostalgic treats like Mountain Bars, Almond Roca, U-No Bars, Big Cherry and an assortment of licorice flavors.
Helping Paskett run the store has been his son Jeff, 53, who has worked there since grade school, emptying the garbage, breaking down cardboard boxes and pricing items. Jeff’s two sons, Joshua and Evan, also occasionally helped out in the family business.
The final days of the pharmacy were tough on the staff.
“During the last days we had a tremendous amount of people come in wishing us good luck, hugging us, bringing flowers, candy, homemade cupcakes and donuts,” Paskett said.
A stream of long-time customers walked through the doors to thank Paskett and his staff for their service to the community.
“One guy came in on his walker. I hadn’t seen him for years but have known him for maybe 45 years. He’s from Bremerton and made a point of coming over to see me. There was another old-time customer who I haven’t seen in a long time. He’s been bed-ridden but somehow got up and came in.”
Such actions by devoted fans drove home the point to the veteran pharmacist that his work over the decades was appreciated.
Jeff included his own memories: “I can’t tell you how many times someone would come in and ask Dad if he remembered when he gave them free medication because they couldn’t afford it. Others would say that my dad drove a prescription to their house after closing hours. That’s old school.”
Reflecting on why customers developed a close connection to the store, Ken Paskett surmised it was because he and his employees cared about the customers.
“We really believed in helping people find what they needed. In some places, the staff is there for the paycheck and that’s it. I think there was a lot more caring here.
“I know my customers — where they work and the names of their kids,” the pharmacist remarked.
Over the years, he has attended customer weddings and funerals. He even dropped in on the 100th birthday of a loyal customer.
Looking back, Paskett said he enjoyed his job. One fun memory centered on a gimmick the staff dreamt up to attract new customers.
“We did an attraction in the early ’70s that I will never forget. We had J.P. Patches [a television clown who had a show on KIRO-TV, for those too young to remember] and [his sidekick] Gertrude fly in on a helicopter and land on an empty field next to the store. That was so neat. I had never seen so many people in the center,” he fondly remembered.
Starting his career
Paskett got into the business after graduating from the University of Washington in 1963 with a degree in pharmacy.
“I liked chemistry and being a pharmacist involved a lot of chemistry. Plus, I just liked the idea of helping people,” he related.
After working in a Gig Harbor pharmacy for a few years, he opened South Park Pharmacy on Sept. 24, 1968. The original location was just a few doors down from its current location. In 1980, the store relocated to its current spot to allow the then-Thriftway grocery to expand.
While Paskett enjoyed servicing folks from around Kitsap County, he conceded changes in the industry were making it tough for the pharmacy to remain a viable enterprise. Insurance reimbursement rates for dispensing medications was falling and more customers were turning to the convenience of mail-order prescription service, he pointed out.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came when the new property owners announced the pharmacy had to transition from its usual month-to-month lease arrangement to a long-term five-year lease.
“Right now, I am 80 years old. I just couldn’t do a long-term lease,” he said. The dilemma prompted him to hang up his white pharmacist’s coat, close the store, and retire.
“I had not thought about retiring but I guess this was the time.”
Closing a fruitful career
Son Jeff pointed out his dad’s biggest regret about closing was that doing so would take away the jobs of longtime employees.
“He cared so much for everyone else, it was difficult for him to decide what’s good for himself. He always put himself last,” Jeff said.
Since Ken Paskett had previously not spent much time contemplating retirement, he now needs to decide what his next chapter will include.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I am so used to working, it’s going to be a shock. Right now, I’m just trying to get the store closed and then I’ll worry about what is ahead,” the pharmacist said.