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Notebook Business

More than a pharmacy

(Sharon Dierberger)

Business

More than a pharmacy

Looters and arson in the Twin Cities destroyed a beloved neighborhood drugstore, but owner Jim Stage is confident God works in the restoration business

They shattered display windows and the glass front door and rushed in, swinging crowbars and golf clubs, grabbing merchandise, and throwing chairs. Many of the hundred-plus looters made a beeline behind the counter, yanking bottles and packages of prescription drugs off the shelves. They destroyed what they didn’t steal, and all evening groups of mostly young men tramped in and out, snatching and smashing. Then several of them looked up and spray-painted over the surveillance cameras, and Jim Stage’s screen went blank. 

“It was surreal,” Stage says. “Like watching something out of a movie.” Only it was real, and it wasn’t over. 

Stage was watching on his computer the live video feed from Lloyd’s Pharmacy, his St. Paul business since 2014 and an independent neighborhood pharmacy for 102 years. 

On this evening, May 28, three days after George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody, protesters gathered in the racially diverse St. Paul community of Hamline-Midway. Lloyd’s Pharmacy sits in the middle of it on busy Snelling Avenue. 

Exhausted from hours of viewing rioters pillage his store, pharmacist Stage fell into bed that night hoping Lloyd’s could sustain the blow and he could repair the damage. But at 3:30 a.m. he awoke to find two texts telling him someone had set fire to the pharmacy in the middle of the night.

By 7 a.m., when he got to the scene, he saw firefighters spraying torrents of water at the smoldering shell of his store. They had battled the blaze all night, but the old wooden building burned too hot to quench. A backhoe arrived to knock over the walls leaning precariously into a debris-strewn parking lot.

“A lot of people were in shock. Some were afraid. I wasn’t afraid. I was just sad.”

Another Lloyd’s pharmacist, Kyle Anstett, embraced Stage in shared grief. Firefighters approached and expressed sorrow over the total loss. Stage thanked them for trying to save his store. Pharmacy customers and neighbors gathered around and cried. 

“A lot of people were in shock. Some were afraid,” recounts Stage. “I wasn’t afraid. I was just sad.”

One man passed along to Stage a $20 bill given by a stranger. Stage learned several good Samaritans tried to stop the ransacking the night before by boarding up the windows and door and posting a sign: “Please don’t destroy. This is locally owned, community owned.” A short while later, arsonists lit the first match.

After Stage had instructed Anstett to send employees safely home earlier in the day, Anstett drove back to visually check on the shop. He saw some of the first looters. To him, they looked less like protesters and more like opportunists: “There were cars zooming in and then people were jumping out, and they’d break into a business, loot everything, jump back in the car, and drive away.”

No other buildings next to Lloyd’s appear burned, although according to published reports 55 businesses throughout St. Paul suffered fire damage that night. Jin Lim, owner of 7-Mile Sportswear, about 3 miles from Lloyd’s, says his business is a complete loss due to looting and water damage. Sprinklers gushed when arsonists lit fire to his store. 

Next door to Lloyd’s stands Fusion Salon, untouched by rioting, although some water leaked in from fire hoses. Owner Diane Brennan thinks looters targeted Lloyd’s for the drugs. They hit pharmacies, gas stations, and liquor stores hard that night. “What happened shook us all to the core,” she says. She hopes Stage rebuilds to help keep the community intact.

Processing what happened to his pharmacy is taking Stage time and faith. And keeping the business running is challenging. His wife and five children, employees, customers, and church have all encouraged him to rebuild.

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But that first morning was especially difficult: “That’s when I was ready to throw in the towel. … You know you work so hard. You try to serve the public. … Pretty devastating.”

Gradually, his outlook changed. 

He explains he first had to forgive the criminals: “I’ve been forgiven much, so I think it’s easier for me to forgive much. … If I withhold it, that doesn’t seem right.” He’s grateful no one hurt his employees or clients. 

He’s quick to say he doesn’t condone the violence: “The behavior needs to be dealt with justly.” He’s appalled at what happened to George Floyd but says no cause warrants wanton destruction. (Police have made no arrests yet in connection with the pharmacy fire.)

Lloyd’s has served customers of varying races for generations and has had three owners since 1949. It has been a pharmacy since 1918 when Florian Ritschel, son of German immigrants, bought the 1914 building and started Florian’s Pharmacy. The store is a block from Hamline University, the oldest university in Minnesota.

Stage, 38, grew up in this historic neighborhood, and his family bought medicine from Lloyd’s. He completed his university internship there. After employment for two years at a chain drugstore, he worked for an independent pharmacy in Rochester, Minn., for the same man who owned Lloyd’s. Stage told him he wanted to return to St. Paul and buy Lloyd’s. Six years ago he did.

Before the fire, Lloyd’s was not only a retail pharmacy but housed the Menopause Center of Minnesota and a state-of-the-art compounding lab to make prescription medicines not available commercially. The pharmacy and lab served about 8,000 patients, employed 37 people, and filled roughly 500 prescriptions daily. Long-term care residents, assisted living homes, and mental health facilities depend on Lloyd’s for regular deliveries.

Some customers have come to Lloyd’s for 50 years. One family brings treats for staff almost weekly. Another customer, Richard Virchow, 46, spoke to me from his wheelchair: A Lloyd’s patron for 10 years, he says the pharmacists know him by sight, talk to him like family, and can make up special medicines for him. 

When Stage’s business partner Phil Hommerding started a GoFundMe page to help rebuild Lloyd’s, contributions and comments poured in. “Three generations of my family have been well served by Lloyd’s Pharmacy. … Blessings for the future,” one person wrote. 

Right after the fire, Stage’s biggest hurdle was figuring out how to keep customers supplied with needed medicine. Committed Lloyd’s employees moved 5 miles north to Setzer Pharmacy, another of Stage’s independent pharmacies. Space behind the counters is crowded with pharmacists from both stores now, scrambling to fill twice as many prescriptions for the shop’s doubled customer load.

Thanks to a Minnesota Board of Pharmacy regulation, pharmacists can provide short-term prescriptions to clients under certain emergencies. That was vital because it took two weeks before Lloyd’s could access client records again, according to Anstett.

While hoping to rebuild soon with the help of insurance, Stage plans to open a temporary satellite pharmacy in July two buildings away from his burned-out shop. He says God providentially provided the fully functional retail space complete with parking when he rented it over a year ago for eventual extra storage: “I know now why I got that lease, but I never realized I’d need it this soon.” 

Stage says he’s watched God’s plan unfold throughout his life, and that night in May was no exception. Even if he has no idea why his pharmacy burned down, he laughs and says he keeps learning God always has a good plan: “He is the God of restoration. That’s something He’s in the business of doing, and He wants that for everybody.”

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  • PILLMAN PILGRIM
    Posted: Mon, 07/13/2020 09:03 am

    This is an encouraging testimony of God's faithfulness in times or trials and tribulatons.  Thanks for sharing.  May the Lord be glorified as the store is restored.  It also is a testimony of the forgiveness broken people will give when they are hurt.....because the Lord has forgiven them.

    Josie Pillman