By The Progressive Era staff
To most outsiders, Wilcox County doesn’t seem like the ideal place to live. Only 10,719 people within the 907 square miles have actually chosen to do so, or maybe circumstances just left them sort of stranded here, a place that’s been rated the poorest county in Alabama. Begs the question, why would anyone want to stay in a place like this?
On the surface, Camden, the county seat, is filled with ordinary people who pretty much work for a living. Some struggle to make ends meet. But Camden is not so much a town as it is a living, breathing organism. A unified body made up of 10,719 irreplaceable souls. Each one providing for and relying on the last.
A local pharmacist, Chip Whittaker, had recently fallen ill to a serious infection that landed him in the hospital, and surgery was required. Methodist preacher Brian Dovey, who normally keeps a prayer list of those who are sick and suffering, decided a few Sundays ago that a little more involvement was in order for this very special, and very sick member of the community.
Rev. Dovey called for a gathering of local citizens in front of Whitaker Drugs to give a healing prayer for Chip. A quick memo was posted on Facebook, inviting the neighborhood to join in. Our editor, Ethan, made a point to be there that day. Like everyone else who chose to show up, Ethan simply admired Chip and wanted to show his support in whatever way possible. No gift bags, glorified airs, or participation trophies were expected. Neither even was a divine photo opportunity–but it sort of turned in to one anyway.
One by one, people of all ages, races, and denominations started rolling in to the parking lot. Even a few casual Sunday shoppers couldn’t help but to abandon their Piggly Wiggly carts to see what was going on. Pretty soon, the sidewalk in front of Whitaker Drugs was completely covered, extending all the way past the vending machines to the sliding doors of the supermarket. When all the standing space was taken, the people curled around on the ends to form a massive semi-circle to face Rev. Dovey. “I lost count at about 57 heads,” Ethan said, “and that’s not counting babies on hips; the whole family showed up.”
Now for those who haven’t ventured too far from Camden, this type of gathering is a sight to behold that you cannot find anywhere else. Even on paper, the thought of a town coming together in a public prayer to just express their feelings towards a beloved, neighborhood pharmacist is an event most would consider too sentimental to believe. It sounds like something jumped straight off the page of an Andy Griffith script. From a place called Mayberry that was just so good, it’d have to be fiction.
It takes a special group of people to come together like that for one person. But it was a mixture of people who truly cared about their neighbor… their friend.
Chip, Chuck, and Mandy Whitaker are more than just friendly faces at a counter. They are part of community-wide sense of security, reliability, and trust. When you think of these folks, and the rest of the wonderful staff at Whitaker Drugs, you think of loyalty, compassion, and family. You are reminded of the sincere effort that goes into your individual well-being, and it makes you feel good.
A lot of small businesses may invest a lot of time and energy into identifying that one marketing aspect that sets them apart from the rest. Those that find success usually have that one “it” factor, their calling card, their unique branded technique used to draw in a customer base. We believe the folks at Whitaker’s might have created the experience they’ve come to be known for by mistake.
Not really trying to impress anyone with gimmicks, coupons, or catch-phrases, they simply chose to treat every person who walked through those doors like family. From drop-off, to consultation, to pick-up, the Whitaker staff makes hospitality in the workplace look easy. It just comes natural. You’re left feeling less like you’ve just had a mildly pleasant customer experience and more like you’ve just been re-united with a long lost friend.
Go in there on your worst day. Bring your foul mood and bed head with you. Two-seconds in to a conversation with Byron and you will be smiling from ear-to-ear and checking your bottles for the next available refill, searching for any excuse to come back as soon as you possibly can.
You can’t find that in every community. Only in places that are sincere in their thoughts and deeds. A place called Camden, Alabama. And there may be no better place to experience the love that radiates here than at our local pharmacy. For all visitors, we encourage you to get sick. Chip’s gotcha!
And here is wishing a speedy recovery for Chip. We need him back at work, serving the people that care about him as much as he’s cared for us. We love you! -All of us