EVELETH — From the moment Jon Marcaccini first flipped the “open” sign on the front door of Jon’s Drug in the summer of 1983, his goal was to remain an independent business.
And it still is 31 years later. With his middle son, Robert, now working at the family pharmacy and his youngest son, Michael, in pharmacy school, Jon Marcaccini’s multi-generational business is intact. When Michael graduates in May 2015, he will take his dad’s spot.
“If I wasn’t able to pass it on, then I’d have to sell,” Marcaccini expressed. “And probably to a chain, and they’d probably close it and consolidate to the market place.”
For many years now, Marcaccini has opened letters from companies like Walgreen’s who fruitlessly try to convince him to sell his drug store on Eveleth’s Grant Avenue. But he had been dreaming of his own pharmacy ever since childhood when he frequently hung out at Gilson Drug, which was just two doors down from his father’s, Geno, Italian bakery.
“Leo Gilson looked like he had nice job,” Marcaccini recalled about the drug store’s owner. “He was warm, dry and smiling.”
By 1996, Jon’s Drug was able to grow due to the purchase of part of the old Gilson Drug store, a portion of his dad’s bakery space and a small space in between the two. The areas went through two expansions, with the last one in 2011 for a total of 8,000 square feet.
Jon’s Drug is that quintessential neighborhood business where everybody knows your name and has what you need from toilet handles to greeting cards. It’s important to the Marcaccini’s to remain a full-service store in a small town.
He often hears customers say, “I knew you’d have it.”
Jon Marcaccini learned the way of a successful small-town store from his father, who early on was Jon’s “go-to guy” for anything business. Jon still adheres to the basic business principles his father instilled, and while technology has changed some aspects of running the pharmacy, Geno Marcaccini’s business model is “still working.”
“They’re a family secret,” Jon said with a grin referring to his father’s business do’s and dont’s. “His philosophy, however, was ‘pay yourself last.’”
Besides serving the community, Jon’s greatest reward of owning his own small business is “just being the boss with the illusion of being in charge,” he said with a wink.
For son Robert, joining the family pharmacy was an “easy path to follow.” It’s comfortable and familiar territory. He looks forward to Michael joining him — now that they are “past the age of fighting,” he said with a laugh before helping a customer choose the right cold medicine.
Up until last summer when Robert came on board, Jon’s wife, Laura, worked alongside as a fellow pharmacist. There are currently 10 employees at the drug store. Dealing with insurance is a full-time job for some of them.
“If we were to ever close it wouldn’t be because of a lack of volume,” Jon said. “Insurance brutalizes medicine.”
Like many small businesses, the early years had some tough times. But as far as Jon is concerned, the deaths from tainted Tylenol in 1982 and in 2005 when Medicare Part D rolled out were the most trying days for him and his customers.
“People panicked. There was a lot of fear,” he recalled about the Tylenol scare. “We had to do a lot of reassuring. People came unglued.”
In his early business years, he explained that customers paid for prescriptions with cash and drugs weren’t as expensive. Nowadays, insurance companies’ pharmacy benefit managers “don’t want to cover anything.”
The Medicare Part D initiative rolled out as poorly as the Affordable Care Act, he added, however he thinks the latter will work out in the end.
Business is “healthy” these days for the Marcaccinis, in large part because of community loyalty.
“In Eveleth people really support local businesses,” Jon said. “We try to earn that.”
And he knows his sons will carry on the business model employed by their father and grandfather. For Jon, it’s all icing on the cake.
“I’m glad I’ve raised my own replacements,” Jon said. “I don’t have to quit. I can just fade away.”