Olds' Joe Gustafson hangs up his white coat
There are big changes happening for local drugstore customers.
As of July 1, Alberta’s 4,300 licensed pharmacists are now able to provide seven new services for the public, including drug injections and prescription renewals. They can now authorize medication in a medical emergency, and create care plans to help Albertans understand and manage their medications better. Pharmacists with additional training are also allowed to prescribe medication.
While these are seen as positive changes there is another one - far more personal - that is bringing sadness for countless Olds residents.
Olds’ beloved pharmacist Joe Gustafson, 61 and a fixture at Shoppers Drug Mart, has retired. On June 29, Joe, as he is simply known to locals, hung up his white coat for the last time. Throughout the day scores of customers dropped by for a farewell chat and to extend their best wishes for Joe. They munched on cake, told stories, and of course accepted loads of free and caring advice.
“He went far and above what was needed. He helped out our family a lot,” said customer Barb Olsen. “His caring and concern for members of the community is what is outstanding in my mind.”
Joe has been a fixture in Olds since he arrived in 1974. He graduated from university two years before and was pursuing a dream of having his own store. He purchased Becker Drugs, which became Value Drug Mart in 1980. For the next 27 years the store was a local institution. In 2007, the store, along with his second store Apple Drugs, was sold to Shoppers Drug Mart. Joe wanted out of the business side of pharmacy but his son Paul became an associate owner. Joe continued on to serve his loyal customers, and to mentor Paul and the rest of the staff.
“He has been a constant presence and mentor and support and a great example for pharmacist service for 40 years in the community and for all of us for the length of time working here,” said Paul. “We are certainly going to miss that guidance and mentorship.”
Joe is proud to leave the store in his son’s capable hands. He believes customers in Olds and the surrounding area will be served with the same high level of service and care he committed himself to for almost four decades.
“You feel an obligation to people as you get into business and you are able to work with them for so many years,” said Joe. “It is nice to know that those people are going to be taken care of, they will be treated the way I wanted them treated, the way I wanted them cared for.”
But is his industry changing too much for rural residents who have come to rely on and expect a certain level of service that is unavailable in urban centres? Joe expects his legacy of the special connection with rural citizens will largely be maintained, although he does concede change is always inevitable.
“It certainly is becoming a dying breed where stores deliver stuff and go see people and visit them in their homes. Some of that is still happening. Those services are still being offered through this store anyway,” said Joe. “Certainly it is changing. But then just volumes of people, volumes of prescriptions, number of services required, it takes more people, more time. It becomes less personal, just by sheer numbers.”
Even so, Joe leaves knowing he has done his very best for his customers, and that a special connection has been forged. He also heads into retirement knowing he has watched the community grow.
But he won’t just be sitting around in retirement and not contributing. He will still be just a phone call away to give advice and mentorship, and he will be involved with the community.
“I love doing volunteer stuff. It is the lifeblood of the community. I have always been involved that way,” said Joe. “Life is different. It calls for different priorities. It is time to look at those priorities.”
And nobody in town disputes Joe deserves every single one.