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Generational Business: Janzen's Pharmacy continues tradition of personalized community care

Established since 1916, pharmacy has served Thunder Bay patients for more than a century

Visiting any one of the four locations of Janzen's Pharmacy, you won't find gifts, stationery, groceries, or any other ancillary products clogging up the aisles.

The sole focus at this stalwart Thunder Bay health-care provider is patient care, and everything about this local enterprise is geared toward promoting wellness.

That's by design, said pharmacist Brenda Adams, who's owned the business since 2002.

“I always just had my own ideas of how I wanted a pharmacy to be,” said Adams. She specializes in compounding pharmacy, which involves tailoring medications to the needs of individual patients.

“My vision started out with the healthy lifestyle and people coming to pharmacies for expert advice and prevention medicine.”

Janzen's singular approach to health and wellness hearkens back to pharmacy's roots, to a time when there was a corner drugstore in every neighbourhood and patients and pharmacists knew each other by name.

The pharmacy's flagship site, at the corner of Bay and Algoma streets in the city's north end, began its life in 1916 as White's Pharmacy, and has had just four previous owners in its 105-year history.

Early on in her career, Adams figured out how she wanted to contribute to her field by first learning what she didn't want.

She got her start as a franchisee with a big Canadian chain, “but they were all very corporate and cookie cutter, and I had my own ideas of where I wanted pharmacy to go,” Adams said.

“I was very involved in natural health and nutrition and fitness.”

Through a friend she learned that Fred Janzen, who had owned and operated the pharmacy since 1978, was looking to slow his pace of work and, eventually, retire.

Adams was keen to strike out on her own, and Janzen appreciated her plan to keep the pharmacy independent. Adams joined the team in 2000.

By the time she took over as owner two years later, the pharmacy had experienced significant growth, securing several big, long-term contracts and establishing a good reputation in the community.

With brand recognition growing, Adams opted to keep the Janzen name in favour of replacing it with her own.

“It wasn't something important to me to have my name over the door,” she said.

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She did, however, drastically change the look of the pharmacy, which bears little resemblance to what most people picture when they envision a typical drugstore.

Each site employs soft lighting and a warm colour palette, complemented by wood accents and granite countertops. The dispensary is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to ensure prescriptions are filled precisely every time.

The result is a modern yet welcoming care centre whose unique aesthetic has earned accolades and profiles in multiple industry magazines.

Over time, Adams has introduced a wider range of services, and that continues to evolve as patient need arises.

When the community faced a shortage of family physicians, Janzen's added two nurse practitioners to its staff, who can consult with patients on a variety of needs, including addictions.

The pharmacy does extensive work for clients in long-term care and assisted living facilities, developing drug-dispensing programs, monitoring medication schedules, or conducting home visits as necessary.

Janzen's even hosts various clinics throughout the year – on travel vaccines or seniors’ health, for example – and makes 500 home deliveries per day for clients.

Offering a variety of services helps balance community need with profitability, which can be a challenge as government regulations change.

“Pharmacy still is a business where you need to be profitable in order to sustain yourself,” Adams said. “But we often do a lot of things just because it's the right thing to do.”

Amongst the many milestones over her career, Adams said that establishing her newest location at ‘The Link’ remains her most memorable achievement.

Situated between the Hogarth Riverview Manor long-term care facility and the Sister Leila Greco supported housing complex, the building is designed specifically to serve senior clients.

In addition to Janzen's Pharmacy, the indoor walkway hosts a doughnut shop, a hair salon, and a gift shop.

After years in development, it was finally completed in 2017, providing ease of access for the people living in the adjacent facilities and creating a community hub where they could gather and socialize.

“That's late in my career, but it really made us be proud of what we could do for the community,” Adams said. 

“We really enjoy being here with the seniors because they deserve this kind of treatment.”

Caring for the people of her community, making their lives a little bit easier, remains Adams’ passion, even after nearly four decades in the industry.

Adams sees a bright future for her model of pharmacy, in which clients turn to their friendly neighbourhood pharmacist for the best advice, care and consultation.

“Pharmacy is a dynamic profession. As long as we can, hopefully, keep it moving in the right direction, we should be able to be around for our patients for a long time,” Adams said.

“I'm proud of what we've done here in the community, and we had so much fun doing it, which is the most important thing. We've had fun, and our customers and our patients have had fun with us."

This article is one in a series focused on the rich histories, journeys and long-term successes of generational businesses in Northern Ontario.