Behind the counter, the employees of Kornak and Hamm’s Pharmacy are always moving. There are prescriptions to fill, requests made, and medications to discuss, but more importantly, there are always the people the pharmacy aims to serve.
Laughter often fills the independent pharmacy, and it’s the personal touches the staff adds to their service that keeps clients coming back — a people-centric approach so important to Adaline — Addie — Hamm, who opened the pharmacy with business partner Harry Kornak in 1981.
For pharmacist Cathie Hamm, Addie’s daughter, her work at Kornak and Hamm’s has come full circle. She took over from her mother in her 30s, though Addie worked at the store into her 70s, and Cathie is now handing the reigns over to her cousin, pharmacist David Shand.
His first lesson, says Cathie, was in making a pot of coffee.
“It took a couple weeks to get that straightened out, and after that it was all good,” she laughs.
David’s response has similar humour.
“This comes from someone who uses words like ‘emulsion’ when she is making a pie,” he says with a chuckle.
Shand, though from Victoria initially, has fit very well into the family business, which he remembers fondly from when he was seven-year-old visiting Williams Lake.
“It’s like Cheers, but a pharmacy. You come in and everybody knows everybody and sees somebody they know,” says David.
It’s an apt description of the pharmacy, where often clients are greeted by name as they walk in the door.
“People will stop by and then wind up spending half an hour talking to somebody, which is kind of neat.”
He’s keen to carry on the legacy started by Addie.
When Addie opened the pharmacy in Williams Lake in 1981 it was all about “location, location, location,” says Cathie.
When the building across the street from the newly opened Yorston Medical Building came available, Addie approached Harry Kornak with the idea, and the two of them and their families — literally, says Cathie, who was 15 at the time and remembers stocking shelves — started the business. The pharmacy has remained there to this day.
There was just one snag — as a woman, no bank would give Addie a loan.
“She ended up borrowing money from her sister-in-law,” says Cathie. “It was a good investment. She paid it back in spades.”
While the business started slowly, it grew from there.
Before opening the pharmacy, Addie set up the hospital pharmacy and also spent some time working with Spencer-Dickie Drugs.
When she opened her own pharmacy she knew she wanted it to be about people and health. She didn’t want it to become the department-store style favoured at the time.
“She wanted to open a pharmacy that was just medical. To take care of people and community that way, and it has always been like that. Cathie carried that on,” says David.
At the time, it was a revolutionary idea to have a file on each individual patient — something that is standard today. Kornak and Hamm’s was the first in the region to do that, keeping physical files on each patient who walked through the door.
When a patient asked about natural hormones, Addie did the research to see what was possible, and became known as the hormone expert.
“She was compounding things, and the next thing we know we were the compounding pharmacy. We are the people who made stuff in the town.”
Cathie worked at the pharmacy as a 15-year-old.
“I made suppositories as a teenager. It was fabulous!”
Like many young adults in Williams Lake, she left after graduating with the intention of “getting away.”
She remembers calling her mom from her aunt’s basement on the coast.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what to do and she says ‘Why don’t you go into pharmacy? Just do it.’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m afraid I’ll be bored.’”
Her mom convinced her and Cathie applied to the University of British Columbia — where Addie had been one of three female pharmacy graduates in 1952. Cathie graduated in 1993.
“Honestly, it was something I know how to do and it is way more fun that I thought it would be. I already had the background of making things, and had an idea, but I didn’t realize what goes on in a pharmacist’s head. You see about half of what we do, maybe less, and the other half is the records and the diagnosis and is this working, and is this person going to take this, and how does this person feel about this.
Cathie’s father, Martin, was a teacher and when he retired was the assistant superintendent of School District 27.
“Anybody can stand in front of a class and drone, but when you get to know the kids — it’s the same here when you get to know your patients and what is going to work for them and what is not going to work for them.”
Dealing with people is the most interesting part, she says.
“I used to joke I could have become a pharmacist like my mom or an educator like my dad, and really I am an educator: teaching people what is going on and helping them.”
After finishing school and completing her internships — during one she lived with David’s parents in Victoria — Addie lured Cathie back to Williams Lake with the offer of a job and a place to live.
“I have always felt at home in this town. You come back and it is home.”
She never left.
After a couple years, Harry Kornak thought about doing other things, and so Cathie bought out his shares, and as she puts it “it was just a natural progression.”
“Since then, I haven’t stood a chance, really.”
Both Cathie and David refer to it as Martin’s (Cathie’s father) master scheme.
Technically, David is Cathie’s first cousin once removed. Addie and David’s grandmother were twin sisters. Cathie taught David to drive, and also gave him his first vehicle.
As they tell it, Cathie lured David into pharmacy in much the same way that Addie did to her.
David’s family would come up to the area for summers, spending time at the family place at Chimney Lake. Whenever they came into town they would meet at the pharmacy.
“She was always kind of stealthy,” David says of Cathie. “Saying, ‘You know, pharmacy is a good profession, you should think about that.”
After marrying and having two children, pharmacy started to look like a really good idea, he said.
“Then after that, she went, you know, you should think about Williams Lake.”
David graduated in 2014, also from UBC and spent the next couple years working in Victoria.
“Victoria is so expensive and the hours are crazy and it’s so hard to have kids and the pace of life is so hectic there. Williams Lake started to look better and better and then Cathie called —”
“Actually, you called me,” Cathie says. “I was visiting a friend and then I came into cell service and there was this message. ‘We need to talk sometime.’”
“She’d made some hints about at some point she’d like to wind down someday,” he says.
“Basically, David, I’ve had it, are you ready to take over or what?” interjects Cathie.
In the end, David moved to Williams Lake in 2017 to work and learn from Cathie, and took over the pharmacy this spring, giving Cathie the opportunity to take a step back, as well as do her favourite part of the job — working with people.
The two have a playful rapport, and it’s clear that leaving the pharmacy in good hands is important to Cathie — and also that she doesn’t plan on leaving it altogether.
“It’s fantastic. First he laughs at my stupid jokes, so it’s fun to be able to come to work with someone who just makes it easy to work — I mean everyone here does, they are a fantastic crew — but to have someone who really, really thinks the same way I do, fundamentally and about caring for people,” she says.
Both hope to continue to carry on Addie’s legacy.
“We’re still researching. I have learned from him the new way of doing things,” says Cathie. “Addie was ahead of her time, looking at the patient, looking at the whole picture and David refreshed me on that, so we are continuing that legacy. We don’t deal with a customer or a client or a patient, to me it’s the person.
“We deal with the person and that’s what she taught me.”
David echoes that.
“I hope they know when they come in that we are going to take care of them, we are here to do whatever we can to meet their needs. They are not going to get the run around they might get at another place.”
He has a memory of Addie talking about a patient who once held up the store.
“The way she would speak about him was like she was talking about one of her kids. She clearly cared and wanted the best for him and was just frustrated they were doing the wrong thing,” she says.
“She really cared about the community and cared about being able to care for people whether they felt they deserved it or not.”
Addie died in 2015, Martin in 2013, and both Cathie and David speak of their emphasis on professional ethics and quality of care.
“Do the right thing,” says Cathie. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing and lead by example. Do the right thing for the situation and for the people involved.”
Passing the pharmacy on to family is emotional, says Cathie.
“My mother built a legacy and I continued it and to have it just go to some out of town, large, faceless corporation? It deserves better. It is its own entity.”
David has plans to continue to be on the forefront of pharmacy, expanding on what Kornak and Hamm’s offers by setting up a system where the people who walk in the door talk to the pharmacist before ordering their prescription.
“It should give us a better chance to connect with people and go over their medical needs and address if stuff is missing or if there are errors. To catch it right away and talk to you about that,” says David.
“When I talk about my mom being on the forefront almost 40 years ago, this is the new idea. It flips around how you do pharmacy. It’s a really exciting concept.” says Cathie.
“It’s just expanding on what the pharmacy has always been about,” says David. “Providing better care than anybody else.”
He hopes he can continue to build on Addie and Cathie’s work, and that for those who go to Kornak and Hamm’s, that they will continue to feel like they are being taken care of.
Like her mother, Cathie plans on continuing to work at the pharmacy for some time — though there will now be other things to occupy her time — theatre, kayaking, gardening and spending more time with her partner, Mary-Jo, who Cathie credits as a very important background partner in the business as well.
Still, according to David: “I expect to see her regularly.”