Wynberg Pharmacy is under new ownership these days, but it has long been a landmark in the community and its history is woven into the lives of the Farrell family.
According to second-generation pharmacist Brian Farrell, the family-owned business, which dates back to 1946, was sold to Medicare Health in September 2018 with Brian retaining a shareholding, which he sold in September 2020. Medicare sold the company to a large retail pharmacy chain last year and there has been an integration period of a number of months, according to Brian.
The family still own the building and continue to run Winfar Surgical from the premises above the pharmacy.
Brian says his father, Len, was extremely active and still went into his office up until his 95th year when he had a stroke in 2019. He died in June 2021. Brian’s mother, Thelma, is 91, and his sister, Pam Farrell, stepped down in March after opening up the pharmacy at 6.30am daily.
There was already a pharmacy on the corner of Benjamin and Main roads when the family bought it in 1946.
“The owner sold the pharmacy due to health issues. My uncle, George was also a pharmacist. The irony is that myself and my late brother Clive, who passed away in 2008, are also pharmacists,” says Brian.
The family bought the building in 1995 because they did not want someone controlling their business. At that time, they had three other tenants in the Main Road side of the building, but they extended the pharmacy when those tenants’ leases expired. The building is on a slope hence the steps and ramps inside the pharmacy.
Brian recalls how as children in the 1960s he Clive and Pam helped in the pharmacy, earning pocket money packing shelves or going on deliveries. Constantia was very rural then, he says.
Pam worked at Woolworths after leaving school. Then, in about 1990, her father asked her to join the family business. “I was apprehensive about working with the family, but it was wonderful, and that’s what makes it truly a family business, a legacy pharmacy with uncompromising service to the community,” she says. “People referred us from Groote Schuur Hospital because we carry specialised dressings, surgical aids and more.”
The pharmacy hasn’t always sold pre-packaged drugs. They used to compound medications on-site until legislation changed. “Uncle George took the manufacturing side and dad took the retail side selling as far away as the Transkei,” says Brian. “And we were open all the time. Dad lived in a flat at the back of the shop.”
Brian says the pharmacy used to be open 24 hours and then was open until midnight through the 90s when they again changed the closing time to 10pm, which lasted up until the pandemic. The pharmacy is now open from 8am to 8pm.
Wynberg Pharmacy was known far and wide as a day-night pharmacy and is possibly the most well-known in Cape Town. Brian says his father was forward-thinking in his day. He was the first to buy in bulk and pass on the discount to customers. “This didn’t make him popular among his colleagues,” he laughs.
He says Constantia people supported the pharmacy and his dad recalled knowing the grandchildren of grand and great grandparents who were young when he started.
Brian says he will continue to operate Winfar from the upstairs office in the building. “But it’s not ideal because some people cannot get up the stairs,” he says. Winfar is a medical wholesale and retail online supplier to southern and Sub-Saharan Africa that specialise in rehabilitation aids.
Sheila Lloyd, of Wynberg, says the Farrell family’s departure is the end of an era and she feels there is no competition for large pharmacy conglomerates.
Wendy Kelly, of Edgemead, says every Capetonian has been to Wynberg Pharmacy at some time in their life because it was always open. However, she adds, it’s not safe to go there at night anymore.
Brian says the family pharmacy lives on with most of the staff kept on.
“We’re getting older and a private pharmacy is difficult to run against the big companies. We partnered with Medicare, which is not fully corporate. Medicare sold to a very successful pharmacy retail group, and we are assured the business is in good hands by extremely competent people who will breathe new energy into the business,” he says.
“They have already started introducing new products and will make sure the pharmacy survives and thrives. We assure customers that the pharmacy is not closing.”