Associate Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
November 11, 2021
Every morning Dr. Shantelle Brown walks into her pharmacy looking forward to the day ahead. “It’s rewarding,” she says. “I look forward to seeing how many people and who we can help throughout the day.”
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HOPE Pharmacy, located in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood inside the Market at 25th Street, is all about customers and community. Dr. Brown, a Richmond native and graduate of Howard University’s pharmacy school, started the business shortly after leaving her pharmacy manager position at a large pharmacy chain store.
HOPE Pharmacy offers more than just prescription and over-the-counter medications. It’s part of a partnership focused on community and improving the health of local Church Hill residents. The pharmacy is located inside a grocery store in a food desert, so while the market is focused on solutions to address the neighborhood’s limited options for healthy food, Dr. Brown can address the need for a pharmacy.
“HOPE stands for ‘helping others physically prosper every day.’ And we do that through education, whether it’s on immunizations, medications, over the counter, or prescriptions,” says Dr. Brown.
Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available, pharmacy owners like Dr. Brown find themselves on the front lines of tackling the pandemic. They are not only providing COVID-19 vaccinations, but also playing a key role in helping residents overcome vaccine hesitancy.
As an independent pharmacy with a focus on improving the health of Church Hill residents, HOPE Pharmacy was ready to help. Dr. Brown notes that many of the seniors in her community were eager to take the vaccine, but as eligibility expanded, some younger residents were hesitant.
“I knew that I needed to be an advocate,” says Dr. Brown. “I needed to be able to tell people about my experience. I had students take a picture of me while I was being vaccinated. I journaled my four-week experience from my first dose to my second dose so that I could share.”
A sizeable percentage of Dr. Brown’s customer base is people of color — a population that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. She takes pride in being an advocate, knowing that if her patients get the vaccine, they’ll be protected from the worst effects of COVID-19.
But as Dr. Brown navigates the challenges brought by the pandemic, HOPE Pharmacy also finds itself at the center of a community experiencing a period of change. The Church Hill neighborhood, like many in Virginia’s capital city, has undergone a rapid transformation in the last decade. Recent development in the neighborhood has attracted new residents, and Dr. Brown says it’s been rewarding, but also challenging, to serve both the “new Church Hill” and the “old Church Hill.”
Dr. Brown and the team at HOPE Pharmacy have embraced the change with innovative marketing tactics. For example, the neighborhood’s newer, often pet-owning residents provide the opportunity for a new revenue stream through pet medication.
“My husband and I would get up early in the morning and we would walk all of Church Hill’s streets and have signs about HOPE Pharmacy, as well as pet meds,” says Dr. Brown. “I believe if we can get the pets, we can get the whole family, and vice-versa.”
As a Black business owner, Dr. Brown adds perspective on the challenges that come with starting a business—especially for minority women.
“One of the major challenges that I’ve had as an African American female is financing,” Dr. Brown says. When starting the business she was denied financing a handful of times. But after more than two years in business, HOPE Pharmacy continues to thrive.
“My accountant sat down with me about two weeks ago and she was very pleased. Whereas when we first started, it was very depressing sitting down, talking to her,” Dr. Brown said.
To get to that point Dr. Brown has focused on attracting the qualified employees her customers rely on and making sure they receive good salaries and benefits. She’s also sacrificed her own time to ensure the business runs smoothly when things get busy — she spends many days of the week behind the pharmacy counter herself.
But being busy is good, she says, and in the future Dr. Brown hopes to expand in the Church Hill neighborhood.
“You oftentimes have to be your biggest influencer. You have to be your biggest role model for yourself. You have to do all those things for yourself. But if you know that you can do it, it can be done.”
Dr. Brown is a 2021 enhancement grant recipient of the Coalition to Back Black Businesses, a program launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, American Express, and the nation’s four leading Black chambers to support Black-owned small businesses.