Sharing lunch with Old Ottawa East Pharmacist Scott Watson

From humble beginnings in 2006, Watson’s Pharmacy in Old Ottawa East has grown into a neighbourhood staple over the past decade plus. As Ottawa Magazine once wrote, “stepping into Watson’s Pharmacy is like being transported into a Frank Capra movie or, perhaps a Norman Rockwell painting,” – a very accurate portrayal of what patrons can expect upon entering the Main Street store.

Watson’s Pharmacy itself has an open concept and is incredibly neat and tidy – consistent with what a customer might reasonably expect from a business doling out medication and personal care items. Behind the counter, friendly staff are quick to assist clients with their dispensing needs and to answer any and all questions that come their way. With a compounding lab in the back of the store, Watson’s works closely with physicians to offer customized medications for customers.

Watson’s sets itself apart, in that it follows a holistic, integrated approach to pharma care, meaning that it offers a combination of modern techniques with complementary therapies from around the world.

The Mainstreeter’s Business Beat Editor, Quinn Abugov, recently sat down with owner, namesake and head pharmacist, Scott Watson, to discuss all things Watson’s Pharmacy. Watson opened up about surviving the pandemic as a small business, the recent Main Street re-construction, the store’s future in Old Ottawa East, and of course, jigsaw puzzles.

THE MAINSTREETER: How have the day-to-day operations of the pharmacy gone during the pandemic, and what key differences have you noticed?

SCOTT WATSON: With our day-today operations, we had to implement glass barriers and get people to wear masks. We also had to get used to keeping our distance from each other and the customers. That was the biggest change, and we had to get used to that, just like everyone else. Only now are we able to get closer than six feet to our customers and that’s only when we’re giving a vaccination. Compared to some businesses that have had to shut down, we have been very, very lucky and we know that, since we’re classified as an essential business. For us, it’s been very gratifying just to be able to be out here in the community and to be helping people.

THE MAINSTREETER: How would you say the pandemic has affected your customers?

SCOTT WATSON: Initially, we saw some changes due to the Public Health regulations, and how we could dispense medicine. We had to switch down to a 30-day supply, far less than what we normally carry. This caused a little bit of frustration for people. As things stabilized last June and July, instead of doing 100 prescriptions per day, you’re doing 200, and then you’re doing 300. The backlog was unlike anything I’ve seen before in the business. In fact, that happened with all pharmacies across Ontario, and we all had to get used to it. For a time, there was a big concern about the supply of medicine.

Watson pharmacy 2

 

THE MAINSTREETER: Has the assortment of your best-selling goods changed over the past year?

SCOTT WATSON: Because of the lockdowns and the closures of certain businesses, we sold a lot of things that we would have never sold before. Surprisingly, we’ve sold a lot of puzzles over the past year. You know, in terms of dollar value, it’s not very much, but we do have a lot of people coming here for puzzles and gifts. We also sold a lot of hand gel. Initially you couldn’t get any, so we started making our own right here in the lab. Until some of the large local distilleries began producing mass quantities of sanitizer, it was kind of a nice way for us to be creative and help out our customers at the same time. It’s been amazing how much hand gel, personal protective equipment, masks, large quantities of Vitamin D and zinc we’ve sold. For a while, you couldn’t get any from the companies that we would normally purchase these supplies from. Everything was on backorder, so we ended up making our own immune supplement with some basic ingredients like zinc and vitamins C and D. We tried to respond in the best ways that we could.

Specialty products such as puzzles from the Gifts and Gourmet section of Watson’s have proven very popular to housebound customers, and the post office inside the pharmacy has seen a heavy increase in users and usage.

Specialty products such as puzzles from the Gifts and Gourmet section of Watson’s have proven very popular to housebound
customers, and the post office inside the pharmacy has seen a heavy increase in users and usage.

THE MAINSTREETER: How have your staff coped with working during the pandemic?

SCOTT WATSON: At the start of the pandemic, with so much uncertainty, people were very brave. We had to learn how to protect both our customers and our staff. You always worry about transmitting the infection to others or getting sick yourself, so you have to be extra careful. We’re not in the hospital treating somebody who needs respiration, so we’re kind of removed, but it was still very concerning initially. We have a very talented team, and I was very complimentary and very proud of all my staff, and we managed to get through it as a group.

THE MAINSTREETER: How long have you been operating in Old Ottawa East, and what sort of impact did the reconstruction of Main Street have on the business?

SCOTT WATSON: We’ve been operating in Old Ottawa East since November 6, 2006, so gosh, I guess it’s coming up on 15 years now! Main Street was my first location, and in 2012, I opened a second store on Wellington Street West. I’m really happy with this Main Street location and I love the neighbourhood feel of Old Ottawa East. As for the Main Street construction, we were at the initial onset of it, and it was kind of scary. I remember taking pictures, and there was basically a 15 to 20 foot hole in front of our door. Like, if you walked out the front door, you’d end up in the hole. Luckily, the City had set up a path for people to get into the side door, and people went along that path. And, honestly, there were people going through dirt and mud with walkers to come through this mess of a street to come to our pharmacy. Honestly, there would be times when I’d come in almost in tears because I couldn’t believe they came. So we were kind of scared at the onset but were so incredibly surprised and heartened by the people that continued to come when it was so hard to get here. The construction took a long time, so after a while, people just kind of got used to it. We did lose some business, but we didn’t really lose that much, and I mean, a big, big thank you to the entire community. We couldn’t have done it without you guys, and we’re so appreciative. I mean the only thing we can do is control what we do, and we just tried to be the best that we could.

THE MAINSTREETER: Have the new condo developments across Main Street had an impact on business?

SCOTT WATSON: Every couple of days I think we see a new person, in some fashion, either in the post office, at the front of the store picking up prescriptions, or even buying gifts or personal items. I’m positive that it’s getting busier and busier with all the traffic across the street, for sure.

THE MAINSTREETER: What does the future hold for Watson’s Pharmacy in Old Ottawa East?

SCOTT WATSON: So, what does the future look like for Watson’s? There were some rumours, but I am pleased to announce that we recently signed a new 10-year lease, and we will be staying here in Old Ottawa East. We couldn’t be any happier, really, and I think it’s all guns blazing, you know? Kind of full steam ahead.

THE MAINSTREETER: How has the post office done during the pandemic? Any key differences?

SCOTT WATSON: You know, with Amazon and so much being ordered online, I know it’s been a real challenge, and just dealing with the amount of packages that are coming or going out and being returned. I’m sure every Canada Post out there has that to deal with, so it’s just kind of a new way, right? We’re just having to get used to it. But compared to two years ago, I mean it’s around the clock. As soon as the pandemic started, it began getting much busier. So, the staff have been working hard, and the free seconds that they have between customers has grown less and less because there’s often a lineup here that just doesn’t stop. When we started it was kind of a nice, relaxing job, you know, time to read a book almost. Now, they’re working hard and it’s a challenge for the whole postal system, especially right here at the retail level.

THE MAINSTREETER: Thanks so much, Scott. We appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us.

SCOTT WATSON: My pleasure. Thank you

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