It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday, time for Aaron Schofield to load up the Lakeside Pharmacy and Grocery minivan.
He’s about to depart from the Lakeside store in Antigo.
“I just kind of hop in the van, head out, go to the address,” he said.
Aaron makes a circuit of Antigo at 3:30 every day, delivering prescription medication to the doors of customers. The number of deliveries are never constant, but never zero.
“Could be anywhere from three to four like today, to 15 to 20 [on other days],” he said. “You really just never know.”
Aaron also handles the morning grocery deliveries.
Between pharmacy and grocery, the delivery demand once the pandemic hit was twice or three times the usual. It’s subsided now, but only barely.
“It’s slowed down a little bit, but like I said, our deliveries are sky-high,” Aaron said.
A year ago, the delivery services offered by Lakeside Pharmacy and Grocery might have seemed quaint, even outdated. It costs three dollars per pharmacy delivery and six dollars for groceries.
But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and delivery demand skyrocketed.
Now, this longtime business practice might be a model for expanded delivery services in the Northwoods.
Delivery to the door seems to be a logical extension of Lakeside Pharmacy and Grocery’s attempt to provide neighborly service.
Jim Schofield, Aaron’s dad and a partner at Lakeside, says hello to customers as he walks through the store every day. As a 40-year pharmacist, he knows most of them.
“It’s something that’s been very rewarding, and it’s just, it’s nice,” he said. “It feels kind of homey to come to work.”
Navigating the pandemic has been “kind of a strain on everybody,” Jim admitted.
But it has been motivation to serve customers’ wellness needs, even doing things like offering flu shots in the parking lot to avoid indoor social contact.
And, of course, the convenience and safety of pharmacy and grocery delivery is an added perk for customers.
“I think that’s it,” Jim said. “They know us. They get to know the staff. They trust us.”
At Schaefer’s IGA grocery store in Crandon, owner Jay Schaefer feels a similar connection with his customers. But when the pandemic set in, that connection reached a new level.
“I have friends—well, all of my customers are my friends—who said, ‘Jay, can you deliver for us?’” Schaefer said.
Unlike Lakeside in Antigo, Schaefer’s had never done deliveries.
Unlike Lakeside, Schaefer’s didn’t have drivers or vehicles insured for grocery delivery.
So owner Jay Schaefer started doing them himself.
“I do all of the deliveries,” he said. “There was a couple weeks there that I was doing three, four, five deliveries a day. I was running all afternoon.”
Customers tape a check to the door, and Schaefer leaves the groceries in the garage or porch.
“If I can make people feel safer, and actually keep people safer, then why wouldn’t I?” he said.
The experience has served as a catalyst.
Schaefer says he’s dreamt of creating a formal delivery program like Lakeside’s for a long time. The last several months have acted like a trial run, demonstrating the demand is there.
“Delivery is something that I anticipate us getting into full-time as a result of what we learned during the COVID crisis,” he said, mentioning the need for adaptability. “You cannot direct the wind, but you can change your sail.”
Back in Antigo, Aaron Schofield was finishing up his last delivery of the day, to a subsidized housing complex.
He reflected on bringing prescriptions and food to customers at a time when so many are staying in.
“There’s a ton of people that have just been so appreciative through this whole pandemic period that we’ve been doing this. We’ve had a lot of new people that didn’t even know we delivered before that just been ordering time and time again because they don’t want to come out during this time,” he said.
Maybe, these services will form the future of hometown groceries and pharmacies, not just the past.