After dispensing medicines to Levinites for more than 50 years John and Beth Berry have handed over the reins of their two pharmacies to son Philip Berry and Neville Gimblett.

Beth and John Berry.
Beth and John Berry.

As newlyweds John and Beth Berry had just 200 pounds in their pockets in 1956. The 23-year-olds set off from Tauranga to Wairoa in the Hawke's Bay where they bought a pharmacy.

Nine years later and with three children in tow they bought the late William Donnelly's pharmacy on the east side of Oxford Street, Levin.

Donnelly had been dispensing meds to the local community since 1920.

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In November 1971 the new Levin Mall opened and the Berrys moved their business there. They were the mall's first business tenants and initially had 220sq m to fill, a space which eventually grew to 330sq m.

Inside Berry's Pharmacy on Oxford Street 1965 to 1971.
Inside Berry's Pharmacy on Oxford Street 1965 to 1971.

They started a photographic service and by 1988 it had its own shop. Berry Photo Centre had a Kodak minilab film processor and was also located in the Levin Mall.

In 1972 they bought a house on the corner of Winchester and Queen Streets as accommodation for family and staff, and just in case something happened to the brick building in Oxford Street.

In late 1996 the house became a pharmacy operated by the Berry's business partner Diane Welch, who had been working the mall pharmacy since 1981.

The mall pharmacy was sold in 2000 and in 2006 they sold the Levin Photo Centre to long-time manager Stephen Feldon. They also briefly owned the Mall Lotto business in the mid 1990s.

Between 2000 and 2003 they were unable to have a pharmacy business in Levin because of a non-competitive clause.

Berry's Pharmacy in Levin Mall.
Berry's Pharmacy in Levin Mall.

In 2005 they formed a partnership with Diane Welch and obtained a licence to operate a pharmacy in the new Health Centre in 2007 and in 2009 they bought Queen Street Pharmacy when owner Brian Eastham retired.

Their son Philip purchased Diane Welch's 51 per cent shareholding when she retired in 2013 and he has since been responsible for all operational aspects of the company.

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John was still registered as a non-practising pharmacist and did a great deal of the pharmacies' administration.

But the time has come to rest on their laurels business-wise, though they will remain active in the community and the list of their activities over the past 50 years is impressive.

"In 60 years a lot has changed in the business of pharmaceuticals," said Berry. "We used to do as lot of mixtures and prepared 90 per cent of medicines.

"The 50s started a therapeutic revolution. The discovery of penicillin and other medicines led to pharmaceuticals manufacturing, so that now 90 per cent of medicines arrive ready for use.

"Pharmacies only make some ointments and creams now."

Other changes include the packaging. They had to count by hand and handwrite labels and stick them to bottles manually.

Three years the Berrys acquired a robot that, hooked up to a computer containing info about the medication each patient needed and automatically selected what was needed and packed them in blister packs.

"Those robots handle 200 medicines and can do in four to five minutes what used to take us 20. Out come the sachets with the patients' names, the medication and how and when to take them.

"Keeping up with new trends is very important and you must keep reinvesting to stay current."