Terensia and Darius Russell outside their pharmacy in East Durham, NC
Looking in at their spacious and bustling pharmacy, it’s hard to tell that Darius and Terensia Russell’s careers began in a very different place.
Before they decided to become business owners, the Russells had both worked as educators in the public school system in Atlanta, Georgia, but the arrival of their first child forced the Russells to rethink their career paths. After a lot of consideration, the Russells decided to take a big leap and move back to North Carolina so that Darius could attend the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy.
After Darius graduated from UNC school of pharmacy in 2006 and spent a decade working in the field, the Russells made the decision to go into the pharmacy business themselves. “We said we'd do it now or never. We started out on faith, and opened the pharmacy in 2018,” Darius recalls.
Finding the right space in the right place
Once they’d committed to opening their own pharmacy, the next challenge for the Russells was finding a retail space. By coincidence, the Russells attended church with Melissa Alford, a member of Self-Help's real estate development team. Melissa shared Self-Help’s plans to build a new commercial and community complex — now the Angier Business & Children’s Center (ABC) — in East Durham, North Carolina.
“I remember the day Melissa approached us, and from there, Self-Help showed us the building and plans for the renovation. We've been very grateful for Self-Help involving us in the process, including the buildout of the interior,” Darius recalls.
In addition to Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe, the ABC Center now houses a historic church and a range of other small business and nonprofit tenants that serve the East Durham community. Darius notes that the building that houses the pharmacy, once a commercial bank, provides peace of mind and security.
“Knowing that it's a former bank with a working vault is nice. At the end of the evening, we know that the medication is safe,” Darius says.
Dr. Darius Russell
The Russells are now navigating their fourth year as business owners. Despite the challenges of entrepreneurship, Darius’ work experience prepared him for both the daily operations and the ups and downs of business growth.
“I think having managed independent pharmacies for many years helped me understand a lot about the business aspects of it,” he says.
Becoming an essential part of the community during the best and worst of times
The Russells appreciate seeing their small business become an integral part of the community. "The thing we've enjoyed the most is the community aspect of it. Getting involved and being able to interact with people in the community means a lot to us,” Darius says.
“We value our sense of family and community. Our slogan is ‘here to take care of you’ and we really do want to take care of you. We have seating, complementary beverages, and music playing. We want people to feel like we're part of them and they're part of us.”
Just two years after their business opened, when the Russells expected to see major growth, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, presenting serious challenges. As a community health care provider, the Russells knew they’d be forced to adapt to the circumstances.
“We saw a lot of increased overhead: dealing with sanitation, constantly having to clean, and of course price increases for everything — cleaning products, gloves, masks, etc. — that we wouldn't have expected before the pandemic, plus the stress of constantly keeping staff safe and away from direct contact with COVID,” Darius says.
Darius says that for a pharmacy, the pandemic doesn't feel over at all, but he's looking forward to getting through it and establishing even deeper relationships with the community.
"Getting through this helps us to feel more hopeful — if we can survive through a pandemic, then the sky's the limit when we finally get on the other side. It made us more resilient."
Serving, educating, and looking to the future
For the future of the business, Darius hopes to continue drawing on his and Terensia’s roots as educators. They plan to expand their staff and work with more UNC School of Pharmacy students.
As Black business owners, the Russells are keenly aware of the additional challenges that entrepreneurs of color face, but Darius emphasizes the importance of relationships with community partners and taking risks.
“I know this is a lot more challenging as a minority — there are lots of challenges in life you face anyway. But Self-Help made it very possible by believing in me and other business owners of color. Shoot for your goals, and don't be afraid to go for what you want. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, but you don’t know until you try.”
At Self-Help, we know that local independent businesses are at the core of the communities we serve, and we feel privileged to work with community-oriented entrepreneurs like the Russells. You can read more about Russell’s Pharmacy in an earlier post here, and learn about the ABC Center here.
And if you're a business owner looking for a financial partner, we may be able to work with you too. Explore our website to learn more: