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Doug Clark: South Hill institution putting his mortar and pestle aside

TUESDAY, JAN. 28, 2014

Tom Stanley assists a customer at the Safeway located at 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard. Stanley has been a pharmacist there for many years and is retiring on Wednesday. (Dan Pelle)
Tom Stanley assists a customer at the Safeway located at 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard. Stanley has been a pharmacist there for many years and is retiring on Wednesday. (Dan Pelle)

By the powers concocted by me, I hereby proclaim this day in Spokane – Jan. 28, 2014 – to be …

Tom Stanley Day.

Anyone wanting to observe this nonbinding, completely contrived holiday can do so in the following ways:

1. Smile at a stranger.

2. Lend a sympathetic ear to someone with a problem.

3. Tell a corny joke.

This is the simple prescription that has made Stanley a South Hill institution for more than three decades.

But there’s an end to everything, alas.

The pharmacist, who turns 70 in April, is hanging up his crisp white lab jacket. Wednesday will be Stanley’s final day at the Lincoln Heights Safeway pharmacy, 2509 E. 29th Ave.

Stanley has worked 24 years at Safeway. Before that, he logged about 10 years across the street in the pharmacy at Rosauers.

Stanley is a good guy with many, many fans, including me.

I couldn’t let him slip off into retirement without saying thanks.

“Whataya mean corny?” said Stanley, who affected a feigned look of indignation when I told him about the precepts of Tom Stanley Day.

Sorry, Tom. You’re right.

Better to let your jokes speak for themselves.

Exhibit A – Guy walks into a bar with a set of jumper cables around his neck. Bartender says, “You’re not gonna start anything, are you?”

Exhibit B – Three-legged dog hobbles into a bar. “I’m lookin’ for the guy who shot my pa(w),” growls the mutt.

If Tom can’t coax a smile out of you, you’re probably there to pick up something for constipation.

“That sounds like something Tom would say,” laughed store manager Jeremy Renken, who praised Stanley for his work ethic and unforgettable personality.

Tom’s “definitely unique and a leader in customer service,” Renken added. “The guy is really good at what he does and he’ll be missed here, for sure.”

The philosophy Stanley carries to work day after day is no joke at all.

“You’ve got to treat people as if they were your wife or sister or brother,” he explained. “You have to like people and treat them like family.”

Every young worker starting out in a retail job should memorize those two sentences.

Stanley tries to instill these sentiments into the fourth-year Washington State University pharmacy students who sign on for internships at the store.

In 2008, Stanley was named the WSU College of Pharmacy Preceptor of the Year for his mentoring success.

Stanley began learning this himself as a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio, in the early 1960s. Just 16, he landed a job as a stock boy “in a corner drugstore that was really on a corner.”

This was back when drugstores came with soda fountains and pharmacists who often mixed some of the compounds they sold.

Stanley said he worked for a gregarious pharmacist who treated his customers like old pals. Probably without even realizing it, Stanley absorbed invaluable lessons about human relations.

He also found a calling.

After high school, Stanley pursued the education he needed to make pharmacy his profession. He also spent four years as a pharmacy specialist in the U.S. Air Force.

The first three were stationed in Great Falls, where he met Jan, his wife of 44 years.

Then it was on to Oklahoma for a year, which Stanley jokingly calls his “overseas duty.”

Settling in the Spokane area, the couple raised two boys and a girl who are now grown, married and living in Seattle.

“They live within 10 minutes of each other and are friends,” Stanley said. “They get along with people and each other. That’s how you learn to survive.”

After so many years, nearly all of his customers must have a favorite Tom Stanley memory.

Few of them, I’m betting, are as painful as mine.

I’ll always remember Stanley as the guy who gave me the best advice I never followed.

It happened a few years ago when Stanley tried to convince me to get vaccinated against shingles.

He made such good sense that I actually began filling out the forms.

Then I started hemming. And hawing.

I told Stanley I wanted to check on my health insurance and would be back tomorrow.

Yeah. Tomorrow.

That’s the ticket.

I never returned, of course. Shingles, after all, seemed like such a remote possibility.

Remote, that is, until I woke up one night feeling like someone was skewering my back with a bayonet.


All was not lost, however. Stanley told me that he has often used my pox misery as a cautionary tale to customers.

That’s not the first time I’ve been cited as a bad example, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Will he miss this job?


But he’s also looking forward to retirement. “This is the last time I have to tell (Jan) that we can’t go somewhere because I’m working this weekend,” he said.

Enjoy your R&R, Tom. You’ve earned it.

“They say you’re supposed to leave ’em laughing when you go,” said Stanley, when I shook his hand. “Well I hope I’m leaving them laughing.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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