Thompson gets chamber’s Lifetime award

Bill Thompson said he was in the right place at the right time.

Thompson said he started working at Meek Drug Store in Juniata when he was a student at Altoona High School.

“Mr. (Daniel) Meek said if I would consider pharmacy, he would hire me and sell me the business,” Thompson recalled.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 1962, Thompson returned home to work for Meek.

“I worked for him for three years, and one day he said he wanted to retire. He said, ‘Are you ready?’ I said I was ready,” Thompson said. “He financed me buying his business. That was the kind of mentor he was to me.”

William D. Thompson Jr. (known by many as Bill Sr.), chairman of the board of Thompson Pharmacy, will be the 2014 recipient of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence Monday night at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

“I am thrilled about it. When you look at the 12 other guys who won it, those are some of the big names in Blair County. Most of the awardees are family businesses like we are. I am thrilled to death,” Thompson said.

“This is the biggest achievement in my lifetime. This is beyond my belief. The names in there – Ward, Imler, Wissinger, Sheetz – I am not sure I am in that category but will humbly accept the award and be proud of it,” he said. “It is the epitomy of my career.”

Chamber President and CEO Joe Hurd said Thompson is a worthy recipient.

“We are fortunate in Blair County to have people who understand and recognize what business excellence is all about. Those are the type of people that nominated Bill Thompson for this award,” Hurd said.

“Bill’s appreciation of his community and his willingness to make decisions that focus on the best interests of that community have helped Thompson Pharmacy to build a loyal customer base. His expertise and those of his staff has helped to maintain that customer base,” he said.

Thompson knew from a young age that he wanted to be a pharmacist.

“When I was in ninth grade, I wrote a paper and said I wanted to be a druggist and own a store in Juniata, and it all happened. It was amazing what I said in ninth grade that it came to fruition. If you aim goals high, sometimes they work out,” Thompson said.

The business grew through acquisitions and additions purchasing Sitnek’s Drug Store at 12th Avenue and 12th Street in October 1985, Broad Avenue Pharmacy in August 2003, and this year, Thompson purchased a pharmacy in Centre Hall.

Thompson moved its Juniata store to its present location at 600 E. Chestnut Ave. in 1999 and added a Hollidaysburg location in 2008.

Thompson also got into the long-term care business in 1988.

Thompson Pharmacy is more than an old-fashioned drug store – as it offers a large line of gifts, an in-store post office, dry cleaning and more.

“We try to make it a one-stop shop. We try to make it so they can get a loaf of bread or milk or get their shirts done,” Thompson said. “Crafts have been a big part of our business at the two bigger stores. It is tough to make money on toothpaste. We had to find something more profitable; that is why we got into gifts,” Thompson said.

Being a part of the Value Drug Co. cooperative enables Thompson and other locally owned pharmacies to compete with the national chains.

“It has grown and grown. It serves 560 stores today,” he said.

“The bigger we get, the better the buy, and that allows us to be able to compete. If not for Value Drug, I would not be sitting here,” said Thompson, a member of the Value Drug Board of Directors for 44 years.

Thompson admits he is a bit surprised by the growth of the family business. It totaled about $70,000 in revenues during its first year.

“It was good slow growth. It was done a good way. It has come step by step. We are happy with it. We now do millions of dollars every year,” Thompson said.

The addition of his son, William D. Thompson III, known as Bill Jr. – who today is president and CEO – to the family business in 1988 as well as the addition of the long-term care business, have been keys to the business’ success.

“He had a different outlook. He gave the business a bigger vision than I had. He wanted to grow the business more; he wanted it to be his one day,” the father said. “I try to stay out of his way. If he needs something, he comes to me. I feel good that we have that kind of relationship.”

William Thompson III said he is honored to be recognized by his father.

“He has allowed me to make mistakes. He was not afraid to allow me to make mistakes and learn from them,” the son said.

The elder Thompson, 75, is semi-retired but fills in as a pharmacist when needed.

“I come in every day. I just enjoy the business and the people,” Thompson said.

Thompson will be the 13th award recipient since Ernie Wissinger received the first in 2002. Other winners have been G. William Ward (2003), Stephen Sheetz (2004), Donald Devorris (2005), Willard Campbell (2006), John Wolf (2007), Lee Hite (2008), Donald Detwiler (2009), Michael McLanahan (2010), Barry Smith (2011), Fred Imler (2012) and Ben Stapelfeld (2013).

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.