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CHENOA — Open the door to Chenoa Pharmacy. Walk on the original 1889 wood floor, under the original tin ceiling and past the original wooden shelves.

You are greeted by your first name.

"Hi, Chuck," owner and registered pharmacist Dan Boian said to longtime customer Chuck Kauffman as he arrived to pick up a prescription.

Look around a little more closely. Notice that — in addition to old pictures of Chenoa on the walls and drug store memorabilia on some of the original shelves — there's a full line of over-the-counter medicines, toiletries, greeting cards and some school and cleaning supplies, gifts and candies.

Go in back and find the staff of seven employees busy working on the computer, on the phone with doctors' offices and filling prescriptions, including for area nursing homes.

The diverse environment — and the business of long-term care facilities such as nearby Meadows Mennonite Retirement Community and Meadows at Mercy Creek in Normal — explains why Chenoa Pharmacy remains an independent, locally owned business after 126 years. It's up to date while remaining patient- and customer-focused and recognizing that it's an integral part of northern McLean and southern Livingston counties.

"Chenoa Pharmacy has been an invaluable part of the structure of Chenoa," said Gene Jontry, a native who taught, coached and was a principal and superintendent of schools in Chenoa.

"Chenoa Pharmacy is a cornerstone of the community," said Kauffman, who farms near Chenoa.

"We have survived the (drugstore) chains because we offer personalized service," Boian said. "Our customers have been loyal to us, so we're loyal to them."

But longtime customers said there's more to it than that. The difference for the past 37 years has been Boian.

"He not only filled prescriptions but he would explain how the medicine may interact with other medicine and side effects," said Gridley Mayor Brent Kirkton. "And when I go over to pick up medicine, we always talk about our communities."

"Dan is an outgoing person, a role model and a businessman-humanitarian who has been active in the community," Jontry said.

It hasn't just been Boian. His wife Susie has been office manager and their now-adult daughters were practically reared in the store.

"I loved being at the store and my sisters would agree," said Theresa Boian Miller, 41, of Gridley. "We got to help dad."

Boian, 69, who has owned Chenoa Pharmacy since 1978, sold it this month to Rob Taveggia, a registered pharmacist and Chicago area native who has worked at the pharmacy for 2½ years and has relocated to Chenoa.

"I liked escaping the craziness of corporate life," said Taveggia, who worked for 16 years for chain pharmacies. "Here, we have a personal relationship with everyone who walks in the door."

"I plan on changing very little," Taveggia said. Boian, who has worked at the pharmacy for 46 years, will continue on part time.

"There's no reason to fix what isn't broken," the new owner said.

Chenoa Pharmacy, which is on the Route 66 Hall of Fame, opened in 1889 as the T.R. Schuirmann and Hops Pharmacy and later was renamed Chenoa Pharmacy. Boian, a Chenoa native who worked at the pharmacy in high school, graduated from Southern School of Pharmacy in Atlanta, Ga., in 1969 and then began working full time at the pharmacy. He bought the pharmacy from Wes Harris in 1978.

"We had no computers. Everything was typed or handwritten. It was more labor intensive," he said.

The pharmacy also sold school books and more beauty products, perfume, gifts and toys in those days as people would come to downtown Chenoa for more than medicine and toiletries.

"We stopped selling cigarettes and liquor in the 1980s," Susie Boian said. "We thought we were supposed to be promoting health. We were ahead of the curve on that."

Miller and her sisters, Natalie and Marie, began working at the pharmacy as 6- or 7-year-olds selling Sunday newspapers.

"We used the old cash registers that didn't make change," Miller recalled. "Dad didn't get electronic cash registers until we were in college. I'm really good at making change.

"All three of us worked here through high school and college during breaks waiting on customers, stocking shelves, cleaning and dusting," she said. "It taught us a good work ethic. We learned to relate to several generations. We learned that we were a part of the community."

It also was a way for the family to be together because — as the only pharmacist in the area — Boian frequently received calls after hours.

"After work, we'd make deliveries to peoples' houses," Miller said. "I remember many Christmases and Easter dinners when we needed to stop what we were doing because a child had a high fever and couldn't wait until the next morning to get her medicine or a person had run out of their diabetes medicine, a mother had run out of diapers, a new nursing home admission needed medicine or a hospice patient needed pain medicine."

"If you have a problem, night or day, they'll take care of you," Kauffman said. He recalls being able to get his wife's diabetes medication prescription filled after hours.

"When you're in pain, time is of the essence," Boian said.

"There were times I couldn't be at home," he said of those emergencies. "But it was nice because they (his family) could come here, I could bring them with me."

Tears filled his eyes.

"He's loved his job and he's loved the people," his wife said.

Several of the high school students he employed part time went on to become registered pharmacists. Among them is Kate Whitver Aardema, 36, who works for Walgreens in the Chicago suburb of Mokena.

"It was a lot of fun," she recalled. "Dan and Susie are fantastic people and anyone working for them was great. It was a great introduction to the business world."

But, more importantly, Aardema learned about treating customers as neighbors rather than just patients.

"I try to do that. Sometimes my store is too busy to take the time to talk with customers, but when I can I do chat with them as they pick up their prescription," Aardema said.

"Chenoa Pharmacy has been a place for Chenoans to stop and chat," she said. "It's been central to the community. I'm glad they'll be able to keep it going."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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