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Burns Drugs store all about caring for community

If Wayne Woods has a say in it, you’ll be called by name in Burns Drugs store.

“You’ve got to know their name,” said Woods, managing partner/owner of Burns Drugs. “And I also try to learn a little something about everyone, so when they walk into the store they’re not strangers. In that regard, we’re a kind of throwback to an old business style.”

Maybe that style is why Burns Drugs has been a healthy La Jolla business for so long. It started back in 1952 when Robert Burns bought the store with Strouther Kay. The building stood alone on Girard Street at that time - Warwick’s was not yet next door and the Masons met upstairs in the building.

After about 20 years, store manager Art Keever took over with Orrin Gabsch. They ran it for 20 years themselves until Wayne Woods, accompanied by some silent partners, bought the store from them in 1991.

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So Burns Drugs changed hands a few times over the years, and some things have changed in the pharmacy business, too, since the time the Masons were meeting upstairs.

In the ‘50s, all prescriptions were rung up on cash - “cash and carry” it was called. And when Woods bought Burns Drugs in 1991 only 25 percent of prescriptions were being paid for using insurance. These days, however, Woods estimates that 98 percent of prescriptions are purchased through insurance.

This has hurt business. A typical business profit of 28 to 30 percent was made on prescriptions at Burns in the days before the ubiquity of health insurance, he said, but today it’s down to only about eight percent.

Burns’ business has always been about more than just filling prescriptions. The front end of the store is a colorful assortment of cards, souvenirs and cosmetics. In the past, Burns carried an even wider variety of goods up there, including hardware.

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Their claim was that you could find everything at Burns, and if it wasn’t in the store, they would order it and it would be there tomorrow.

“We wanted to take care of the needs of our community,” Woods explained. “That’s why we’re in business.”

As seriously as Wayne Woods takes the sense of community that Burns Drugs provides, he plans to do one thing that breaks with the tradition of business there: He will not be retiring after running it for only 20 years.