Community-based pharmacy aims to ‘make a difference’
“Before we opened the door it took us almost a year to do research, so opening a pharmacy was a long road,” said Elias Usso of his journey to open Seward Pharmacy in South Minneapolis.
“I’m a pharmacist,” Usso said, “and I graduated from California Northstate in Sacramento. I went to school there, finished my school in 2014, and I got my license there,” he said.
“I consider [Minnesota] home,” he added, “but I lived most of my life in Atlanta, Georgia.” Usso came to Minnesota in 2015. Four years later, in 2019, he established the local pharmacy. He is the “pharmacist in charge” at his business, but “I have a pharmacist that currently helps us,” Usso said.
Usso explained how the business started. “I was thinking about business even when I was in school, and I felt like I could provide a much better service than Walgreens or CVS would’ve given to our community.”
Opening a new pharmacy was challenging. Usso elaborated on his entrepreneurial struggles: “We had to apply for a loan, do a lot of research,” he said.
“I’ve never had a business in my past, neither has my wife—so, the most difficult part was all of the insurance and the finance part.” Fortunately, he was able to secure proper funding to start the business.
Important to note, he said, is that “The mission and purpose in the community is to help out as much as we can—provide something better, something more reasonable that is affordable to our patients, our community, [and] access to medicine.”
Customers can expect “the best service” Usso said. “We also do free COVID tests. We have folks that are doing the COVID testing—and the pharmacy doesn’t operate the COVID testing part, we just give them the space,” he explained.
Usso emphasized, “We’re taking a risk—but there’s a lot that we’re doing that makes a huge difference in our community day to day.” The pharmacy serves “over 50 patients a day for COVID tests alone,” Usso said.
The pharmacy is geared toward manifesting positive change in the community and enhancing the quality of life for its customers. “We hope that we do our best continuously, and hope that our patients, our neighbors will be there for us too,” Usso said.
“We want to welcome them [customers] to come, bring your prescriptions, shop from us. This is your pharmacy, that’s the idea—this is a homegrown business.”
Operating a pharmacy requires hard work and passion. Over the last two years, the business has faced trials and tribulations since the peak of COVID and civil unrest deriving from the death of George Floyd. “It was a very emotional time,” Usso recalled.
Although there may be unexpected and challenging times in business, the owner said he stays focused on living with purpose. When asked what motivates him every day, he said, “Every day of course my family, and making sure that I do my best every day.”
Asked about the most rewarding aspect of running his business, Usso said, “Any day when I go there and I see that I help my patients, especially those who need the most help. I make a difference—that’s the biggest rewarding part of my life in this business that I’m in.”
Unlike corporate entities, “We’re local—minority owned. You don’t find that a lot,” Usso said. As a result, customers receive more one-on-one attention and exemplary customer service.
Of the difficulties he’s encountered in operating the pharmacy, Usso disclosed, “Billing and insurance is the most challenging. They may not reimburse you how you’re supposed to be reimbursed.” Despite those struggles, the owner remains focused on meeting the needs of patients.
When asked about the keys to success, he said, “Know what you want. Execute that interest. In any business acumen you have to be a risk-taker.” Most importantly, You gotta have passion for what you’re doing, and that’s the main part.”
Usso shared advice for youthful and upcoming entrepreneurs: “Pick out what you’re interested in. Don’t be afraid. Try it and give it your best shot—you have to put forth full effort to see a result.
“It requires a little extra push, but anything is possible for young folks. There’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
Usso added, “I want the public to know that Seward Pharmacy is a community-based pharmacy. We make an effort to eradicate COVID.” Customers can stop by the pharmacy to get vaccinated every Wednesday. If anyone has difficulty getting to the vaccination site, they will come to your home. There’s free delivery, too.
Seward Pharmacy is located at 2209 East Lake Street in Minneapolis. For more information, visit www.sewardpharmacy.com or call 612-444-3530.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.