David Cox’s life seems equally divided between his South Bend pharmacy and hunting. And family encompasses both.
Cox is the second generation of a three-generation dynasty of pharmacists in South Bend, the county seat of Pacific County, just upstream on the Willapa River from Willapa Bay.
Don Cox ’46 graduated from Washington State University twice, first in chemistry before joining the Army during World War II, then in pharmacy in 1946. He began his career in Long Beach, then started the South Bend Pharmacy in 1958. The business is difficult to miss. Just off of U.S. 101, it is painted a tasteful gray with crimson trim. The bathroom, for those slow to understand the allegiance, is distinctively WSU-themed.
Upon graduation, Dave bought out his dad.
“I have been there for 43 years,” he says as we visit on his enclosed porch overlooking Willapa Bay, “and we’ve been open 43 Christmas days. We’re open Sunday twelve to one.
“Matt will work today,” he says, this being Sunday. Matt (’05 Doctor of Pharm.) is the third generation. His wife Kinnarone is a tech with the pharmacy.
While there today, Matt will fill 40 to 50 prescriptions.
“Customer service is everything,” says Dave.
Whether that customer service will help the independent pharmacy survive remains to be seen.
“It’s all up to the government,” says David. “We’re operating on a 3 to 4 percent profit margin right now. The only way you can make anything is on volume.”
Even so, he dismisses the notion of chain stores as competition.
“People will drive to Aberdeen to Walmart maybe twice. They’ll sell you a four dollar prescription. Twice. The third time it will be $30.
“You’ll pay me $15.50. That’s my minimum charge, because it cost me $12.50 to fill. Our overall price is way cheaper.”
He then observes that his real advantage over bigger stores is South Bend has only four doctors. “That’s only four doctors to deal with their handwriting.”
The pharmacist in a town of 1,700 has a unique perspective.
With Matt on board, David has more time to hunt. Although he’s proud of the trophies he brought back from South Africa and elsewhere, his “big passion is bird hunting.” It’s as much about the time in nature as the hunt.
He recalls an experience several years ago, when the bay was covered by Spartina, an invasive cordgrass.
One of the worst spots was right below the house.
“Taylor [a son currently at WSU] and I went down on opening day.”
They settled on a hummock, hidden by the Spartina.
“I said, ‘don’t shoot. Just sit here.’ There were probably 20,000 ducks, all sides of us.”
Then he had Taylor fire one shot.
They didn’t shoot a single duck. But the effect of 20,000 ducks taking off all at once was spectacular.
“There’s a sight you’ll never see again,” he told his son.