By Charles Kocher

Pilot staff writer

It was the classic big-box vs. small business scenario: When Fred Meyer opened in Brookings, there was indeed a drop in business for Chetco Pharmacy and Gifts just down the street.

andquot;Our business did go down,andquot; says Tim Yantis, the a pharmacist at the store. andquot;I'd say slightly more than half.andquot;

But with an attitude of beating the big box - chiefly with better service - Chetco Pharmacy has rebounded and grown, even winning a national award as pharmacy of the year.

Yantis, now owner, recounted the andquot;wild rideandquot; this week at the Industry Showcase Luncheon of the 2007 Business Outlook Conference organized by the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Despite his low-key presentation and just-doing-our- job attitude, the conference crowd showered Yantis with compliments and applause for his store's customer service and innovations.

Opened in 1950, what was first Chetco Rexall Drug had been a fixture in downtown Brookings, first in a corner of the former Kerr's Hardware building, and later in the Manley Building near the Redwood Theater.

Owners Frenchy Arrell and Doug Peterson built a new store at the current location in 1970, and Yantis hired on in 1980. andquot;I thought it was a big store for a small community.andquot;

It was 1997 - in the wake of the Fred Meyer opening - that Yantis was offered a chance to buy the store. Skeptical, he brought his brother, a business expert, down to review the opportunity.

The decision? andquot;We can make it better - selling cheaper and getting the drugs out faster.andquot;

The formula worked. Sales doubled in two years and tripled by 2000.

andquot;It's all about customer service,andquot; Yantis said, noting that many of his clerks have been greeting customers by name for decades.

Careful product selection also made a difference. andquot;We went away from what Fred Meyer was selling to what they didn't have - unique things,andquot; Yantis remembered.

By 2003, business was good enough for a complete remodel, including addition of a drive-up window. andquot;Then Fred Meyer remodeled and put one in too,andquot; Yantis joked.

Chetco Pharmacy has also invested in technology, adding automated phone ordering and a andquot;robotandquot; to fill prescriptions. andquot;We were one of the first pharmacies to put in a robot,andquot; Yantis said.

Now he's on his second robot, still working long hours and looking for help.

When he joined the store, Yantis said there were three pharmacists and six or seven clerks. andquot;Now there's one pharmacist and 21 clerks, or 22 people and a robot,andquot; he said. And the pharmacist - Yantis - is working 12-hour days.

andquot;If you know of a pharmacist looking for work, let me know,andquot; he begged the audience.

The efforts are all aimed at the customer. andquot;That's what we pride ourselves on is how fast we can get a prescription out.andquot;

Yantis pledged to keep up the trademarks of fast and friendly service.

andquot;It's not really what I've been doing,andquot; Yantis said. andquot;It was Frenchy and Doug; it's putting the customers first.andquot;