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O’Neal’s thrives on family-style service

Neal O’Neal (right) with O’Neal’s Drug Store in Belhaven with customer Carol Clark (left) and pharmacist Taffy Klaassen. (WDN Photo/Kathy Schermerhorn)

How is it that small, independent local companies such as O’Neal’s Drug Store in Belhaven can flourish in this era of big-box stores and pharmacy chains popping up on every corner? It’s old-fashioned, family oriented customer service and the desire to serve smaller communities that have fewer choices.

“Our goal is to be competitive in our pricing and offer better, friendlier service,” said company owner Neal O’Neal. “Our motto is ‘Our family caring for families like yours since 1932.’ If you treat people the way you treat your family, that’s about as good as you can be treated.”

O’Neal points to the customer service his employees provide as a significant contributor to his company’s success.

“We are blessed with our staff. They are very personable, outgoing and service-oriented,” he said.

Family owned and operated for three generations, O’Neal’s has been providing pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and general drugstore merchandise to Belhaven folks and Hyde County residents for 80 years. With the opening of the Chocowinity Pharmacy in 2001, the company expanded its reach to serve residents in Chocowinity and the southern regions of Beaufort County, areas that previously had no local drugstore services.

“I saw the opportunities in other communities that we were doing in Belhaven — to be able to serve other communities that really needed it,” O’Neal explains.

O’Neal’s now provides the same family friendly service at Costwise Pharmacy in Williamston, Columbia Pharmacy and O’Neal’s Drug Store in Newport.

Along with full-scale pharmaceutical services, O’Neal’s offers a wide range of medical equipment such as wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, diabetic supplies, digital photo printing, fresh flowers and a gift shop.

Opened in 1932 by O’Neal’s grandfather, Prentiss, with $300 in inventory, the original shop in downtown Belhaven has grown substantially while surviving a dozen hurricanes, each one flooding the low-lying store and requiring massive cleanup efforts. After the devastation of Hurricane Irene, O’Neal decided to move the store to higher ground. The company will be breaking ground soon on a new building at the corner of N.C.Highway 99 and U.S. Highway 264 at an entrance into Belhaven. Plans call for it to be open by mid-August.

“It’s not something I’ve taken lightly,” O’Neal said of his decision to move out of downtown Belhaven, adding that the new building will offer a drive-through pharmacy and convenient, plentiful parking to address customers’ few complaints.

This is what drives O’Neal’s decisions: how can he provide more or better services to his customers?

One of these is home delivery. For a small fee, O’Neal’s will deliver prescriptions, medical supplies, even flowers over several hundred miles in the more remote areas of southern Beaufort County and western Hyde County that have no pharmacy services available. O’Neal hopes to continue to expand the services he offers, including providing immunizations.

Although he is responsible for overseeing the operations of all of the company’s stores, O’Neal likes hands-on pharmacy work the most.

“My passion is to be behind the counter. I just really enjoy it – dealing with the customers,” O’Neal said.

One sure testament to O’Neals’ family friendly service is its long-time customers, he said.

“We still have customers who were my granddad’s,” O’Neal said with great pride and satisfaction.

O’Neal’s Drug Store in Belhaven is located at 292 E. Main St. It is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Chocowinity Pharmacy is located at 633 N.C. Highway 33 East. It is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Home-delivery services are available.