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Tucked on a street corner in the heart of Sun City, you’ll find a white building with bright red letters spelling a well-known name: Alameda Thrifty Pharmacy. You’ll notice the big windows, warm light, and of course, the iconic Texas lotto sign framing the entrance. Open the door and you’ll find a store buzzing with people inside.
You’ll see customers browsing well-stocked shelves; you’ll see kids scouting out after-school snacks; and behind the counter, you’ll see Laura Quijas serving patients she’s known all her life. Almost instantly, you’ll feel that you’re witnessing something special — something that goes beyond a pharmacy. And that was by design.
Alameda Thrifty Pharmacy opened its doors in 1958, and now, nearly 65 years later, it’s a name that Co-Owner and Pharmacist-in-Charge Laura Quijas aims to keep alive.
That’s because Alameda isn’t only essential to El Paso, TX, and its 700,000 residents.
It’s essential to Laura’s family legacy.
It all started with a dream and a doting father willing to make it happen.
Back in the ‘50s, Laura’s grandfather, Miguel B. Estrada, Jr., had just finished his degree. After graduation, he served briefly in the military, and then he headed back home to El Paso to start working. He imagined he might work for a chain pharmacy, but his father — Laura’s great-grandfather — had other plans in mind.
As Laura explains, “When [my grandfather] came back, his dad didn’t want him to have to go work for anybody else. He wanted him to have his own pharmacy. So they bought out a business… and they converted it into a pharmacy.”
The father-son duo set out to work, and soon, Alameda opened up shop on a small street corner, ready to meet the needs of a unique patient base.
As Laura explains, “[El Paso] is a bilingual community” located right on the Texas-Mexico border, “and it’s a little bit of a lower-income, Spanish-speaking community.”
It made sense, then, that Mr. Estrada wanted to provide affordable care in a comfortable environment, using patients’ native language.
At the pharmacy, Mr. Estrada dispensed prescriptions, counseled patients, and experimented with services.
At one time, Laura explains, Alameda even featured its very own soda fountain, where patients could get out of the Texas heat and sip on a cool drink.
Over the years, the pharmacy moved a few times, but in 2004, it landed back on the same street corner — right behind the original building. Alameda had come full circle, but not everyone expected its success.
As Laura explains, “No one thought [my grandfather] was going to make it because he moved into a corner where there were several other independents up and down the street, and now he’s the oldest independent that’s still operating.”
Many of Laura’s first, and fondest, memories take place in her grandfather’s pharmacy.
She recalls, “Growing up, I watched my grandfather [in the pharmacy], and I saw how much the patients all loved him. They knew him, and he knew them.”
It was in those moments that Laura developed her own passion for patient care. But it took a bit of a time — and a bit of nudging from a friend — to bring her back to pharmacy.
She explains, “Pharmacy actually wasn’t my very first option. I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but I wasn’t sold on pharmacy right up until one of my close friends and I applied to pharmacy school at the same time. I got in, so I always give [my friend] credit. I always say, ‘It’s because you made me.’”
But after Laura decided on pharmacy, she never questioned where she’d end up.
All roads pointed her back home: to the familiar walls, and familial comforts, of Alameda. And several decades into the business, it seemed that it was the right time to do it — as Mr. Estrada wanted to slow down and start considering retirement.
Laura says, with a laugh, “My grandfather had six kids, and he had to wait for a grandchild to take over the pharmacy.”
It was then that Mr. Estrada passed the torch on to Laura. Luckily, though, she didn’t have to go at it alone.
She explains, “I work with one of my uncles, and we’re co-owners because he’s my ‘everything else man.’ He does HR, hiring, and finances.” But when Mr. Estrada comes back around, even at 92 years old, Laura says, “He’s still the boss.”
Under Laura’s leadership, Alameda’s legacy has continued, and its scope of practice has only opened up. When Laura and her uncle took over, they worked to bring in new ideas and innovations.
This meant making some changes, including investing in technology.
Laura says, “We’ve done so many computer upgrades, and now we’re with PioneerRx, which we love. That was a big, big change for us.”
With more capabilities, Laura and her team were able to hone in on new, profitable services.
She explains, “After my grandfather retired, we started doing a little bit of adherence packaging. We do MTM, med sync, immunizations, and COVID vaccines. We’ve fully embraced and implemented those things. We’ve also converted our front-end to a whole mesh of products. We brought in CBD quite recently… And right now, we’re working with a lot of local vendors [to bring in front-end items].”
These items include everything from bath bombs to Harry Potter puzzles to the chile-coated candies El Paso is famous for. Not only do these products give Laura and the team another stream of revenue, but they also offer a unique opportunity to work with other businesses.
This was especially important to Laura at the height of COVID.
As she explains, “We really partnered with a lot of local businesses during that time, and we've been able to retain most of those relationships and still sell a lot of their items in our store. So we love that, too.”
Relationships are at the heart of Alameda Thrifty Pharmacy, but it’s not just relationships with vendors. It’s also with other independents in the area.
Laura believes that collaboration is key, especially in the world of pharmacy.
As Laura puts it, “We’re not each other’s competition.”
She goes on to say, “I talk to a lot of new independents here. We still have lunch together. We have a group message with a lot of the owners in El Paso so we can bounce things off of each other… It’s very important for us to stay together as a community of independents if we want independents to thrive.”
Then, and now, it’s all about creating a community.
Alameda Thrifty Pharmacy has been family-owned and operated for over 65 years, and it shows no signs of stopping.
From its simple beginnings to its modern business model, it’s certainly made some changes. But while some things change, others never do: and that’s the family’s vision for the pharmacy and for the people of El Paso.
Laura explains, “We want to be here to serve our special population. Our patients love that one-on-one feeling. They love when we know their names. Everybody wants to feel like they’re known, and so we really try to embrace that family feel here.”
It’s easy to create that “family feel” when you’re surrounded by the people you love most — and that happen to share the same passion as you do.
Right now, Alameda rests with Laura, but when the time comes, she’ll be ready to pass her own torch and continue on the legacy her grandfather started so long ago.
Each and every day, this is a driving factor for Laura: to keep going and keep growing.
She says, “My grandfather is a big motivator to keep the pharmacy moving forward. We just lost my grandmother, and so it’s just him now, and we want to show him that we can keep his legacy going. He’s definitely a legend in our eyes.”
That legend created a legacy that will live on in El Paso forever.