When Rene Rodriguez, who just opened his own pharmacy in Weehawken, was growing up in Union City, his mother would bring him along to do the weekly shopping. If he was lucky, they’d make a stop at the local pharmacy.
“It was the best place in the world,” he laughs. “The owner was the type of guy who knew every one of his customers, and he made you feel like you were welcome in his store. No rush, no hurry. Plus there was great candy and toys.”
It was also the beginning of his dream to one day become a pharmacist.
In school, he excelled in his science classes. After graduating from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, he was accepted into the six-year program at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, the first pharmacy school established in the United States.
First came two years of “pre-professional” curriculum, the study of all the sciences most important to pharmacists, including chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology. Then came four years of “professional” studies where Rodriguez learned more of the specifics of what his career would entail. There was toxicology, therapeutics, pharmaceutics, analytic and medicinal chemistry.
“Being at an independent pharmacy gives me the time and the freedom to give my customers the care and the attention they deserve.” – Rene Rodriguez
He has also studied herbal medicine as well as homeopathy and does some compounding for customers who, he says, “Just want to stay away from chemicals, if possible.”
As the pharmacist in charge of Park Avenue Pharmacy, Rodriguez feels that he has found the perfect job. “Being at an independent pharmacy gives me the time and the freedom to give my customers the care and the attention they deserve.”
His own boss
He tried working for a chain pharmacy – he managed a local CVS after passing his pharmaceutical exams. He found the experience too stressful, too busy, and too impersonal. His goal became not only to work more closely with his customers, but to make the store a truly integral part of the neighborhood. His lunch hour is often spent chatting and sharing a meal with some of the other merchants on the block. He gets his morning coffee from the woman next door whose shop has also recently opened.
He likes being in Weehawken. He makes a sweep of his hand to indicate the length of Park Avenue. There are some really good restaurants here, he said, and a new coffee shop, and, of course, lots of the old businesses remain and are thriving.
It’s an energy he enjoys and has known all his life – the bustling sounds of busy, multicultural towns, the mix of old and new, the way Hudson County always seems to be in the midst of change.
He likes the pace of Park Avenue, and he likes the people who have come into the store, some to browse, some to buy supplies, others to fill their prescriptions. Business was slow at first, but Rodriguez says it’s picking up. He gets the feeling that as people get to know him, his customer base will expand.
“The people I’ve met,” he says, smiling, “seem very loyal. Once they put their trust in someone, I sense that they will stay with them. But I know I’ve got to earn that trust.”
To that end, the pharmacy offers free blood pressure screening and free glucose screening. Best of all, Rodriguez thinks, is the free delivery that is available during business hours.
His parents, aunts and uncles are all from Hudson County. His wife, who was his high school sweetheart, is from West New York. Rodriguez’ local roots are deep and he is glad he was able to realize his dream in the place he feels most comfortable.
When asked where he pictures himself in five years, he says, “Right here, greeting all my customers as they come in the door.” Then he hesitates and smiles. “The only difference will be that hopefully I’ll have a few more names to remember.”