Community & Sport

A St George’s Institution

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Through renovations and recessions, Robertson’s Drugstore is still standing strong today…
Robyn BARDGETT

People across the Island know that when they go to St George’s, there’s one place they have to visit for a distinctive shopping experience. Robertson’s Drugstore has been a St George’s institution since the early 1920s – providing caring customer service and outstanding product selection, making it a standout for almost 100 years. But it’s been the last 20 years, in particular, that has proved just how special this local drugstore truly is. From a devastating fire and a decrease in cruise ships visiting St George’s to a downturn in the economy, Robertson’s has remained strong. And it’s these changes that have driven the team at Robertson’s to continue to modernise and provide fresh products and a shopping experience like no other on the Island.

The staff

“We saw a big difference in trade when we lost the cruise ships in St George’s,” said Joy Rothwell, Robertson’s manager and third-generation co-owner. “We used to have queues out the door in the stationery department when the boats were in with customers waiting to be served. I don’t think we’ll ever recover the tourist business like it was in the past. But we had to adapt by appealing to our local market, and that was just by watching products and listening to all our customers. When a customer comes in and asks for a certain product, we find it.”

And while making sure to keep updating and refreshing products is “hugely time-consuming” it’s part of what has been behind Robertson’s large customer following that extends far beyond the East End. Robertson’s has come to be known as the place to find a special gift, unique toys, a beautiful greeting card, an efficient and helpful pharmacy, and a range of natural beauty products, many of which come from the UK and are not sold anywhere else on the Island. One of the aspects that keeps people coming back is there’s always a chance to find something new and unexpected each time you shop.

A core part of the success is not being afraid to try something new, whether it’s expanding certain sections or providing a revolving section with a continually changing selection of items. “If it doesn’t work, then we change it, but it’s essential to keep things fresh,” said Ms Rothwell. And ultimately, it’s about keeping customers happy and encouraging them to come back. The shop introduced a rewards card system recently, and there are also senior discount days twice a month on the first Wednesday and third Saturday of the month; the pharmacy also offers discounts to those without insurance.

We got through it, and our
staff were absolutely brilliant.
The family, the staff and the
community were behind us.

“Keeping on top of products and being open to what our customers want has been a big part of our following, which has been quite historical,” Ms Rothwell explained. “We get a lot of feedback that customers have received good service, and that is important to us as well. We’re also a big family, and there’s a lot of teamwork.”

That teamwork was incredibly important in 2017 when Robertson’s was damaged by a devastating fire that affected almost every aspect of the store from the roof to the products and the fixtures. However, within a week of the fire, the store was able to open and operate the pharmacy, knowing that they couldn’t leave the St George’s community without a pharmacy for too long.

“It was a very soul-destroying experience,” recalled Ms Rothwell. It was also incredibly surreal, as Ms Rothwell’s parents had been through a similar tragedy when a fire damaged the drugstore in 1977 – 40 years earlier. “Our parents had been through it and survived, so we had something to refer to, which was all a very weird experience,” she said. “What most people think is that you sit down and figure out ‘where are we going to go from here’, but we didn’t do that; we just got on with it. We didn’t question because we had no choice. No matter what, we still had to put the roof back on, and so that’s why you carry on essentially.”

The staff went into “teamwork” mode, and everybody took on a task to get the beloved shop back up and running. “We got through it, and our staff were absolutely brilliant. The family, the staff and the community were behind us.”

Open daily from 8 am until 7.30 pm, Sundays 2-6 pm. Robertson’s Drugstore is located at 24 York Street in St George’s. For more information, call 297-1828.

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