As one of the first sites in DC to partner with HHS to offer Covid testing and vaccination, Grubb’s created an outdoor pop-up structure that served long lines of people every day. Their operation stayed open late, if needed to accommodate demand; they even offered cocoa to children waiting anxiously for vaccines. While a pharmacy has occupied the Grubb’s site since 1867, the doctors Kim are committed to strengthening their community bonds while serving customers at a high level of care by offering constantly expanding services and products. In this conversation, the Kims discuss the challenges, rewards, and impressions of that commitment that began when Michael Kim first walked into Grubb’s as a pharmacy student in 1997.
Interview with Michael and Joan Kim
Interview Date: January 31, 2022
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
START OF INTERVIEW[BM1]
DEUTSCH: Okay. I am here upstairs at Grubb’s Pharmacy with Joan and Michael Kim, and I’m going to start by asking them to tell me a little bit of the history of Grubb’s Pharmacy. I read online [that it opened in] 1867.
M. KIM: Yeah. That’s the date that was given to me by the previous owner in terms of his research and how far back he can trace the pharmacy. We’ve done a little bit of research, but not a whole lot, and from what I can gather there’s been multiple pharmacy owners over the span of 150 years. We can’t really find the original owner’s name back in 1867, that time range. But there are some names that pop up, late 1800s, early 1900s.
And there’s actually some interesting stories that go along with a few of the owners. Such as the reason why two particular owners had to sell is because there was some feud between the wives in terms of jealousy and how one wife would get one thing, the other wife would get another thing. And it was kind of this back-and-forth thing. [Interviewer laughs.] So, it came to the point where the two husbands couldn’t really work together anymore because of the wives. [Laughs.]
J. KIM: That’s what the men say.
DEUTSCH: That’s what they say.
M. KIM: Right, right.
J. KIM: That’s what they—in actuality, who knows?
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. So, that …
DEUTSCH: Maybe the husbands were really annoying. [Laughs]
J. KIM: To each other. And they said, “Oh, my wife doesn’t want me working here anymore.” [Laughs.]
M. KIM: Yeah. And then it picks up in about 1933, I believe, when the Grubb brothers, Charles and John Grubb, bought the pharmacy. They owned and operated it until about 1967. So, in 1967, the story goes that Charles Grubb was …
J. KIM: Hired Mr. Ed Dillon.
DEUTSCH: Who I remember.
M. KIM: Yeah, so Ed Dillon was hired as a pharmacist back then after graduating school. And, actually, Ed went to [school in] the Bronx, right?
J. KIM: Oh, no, no. He went to Long Island University, which is in Brooklyn.
M. KIM: Yeah, okay. And the story is that Mr. Grubb, Charles Grubb, was feeling not so good, under the weather. So, he decided to go to his doctor’s office. Back then the doctors’ offices were, you know, on every other corner, just like some of the pharmacies are.
J. KIM: I imagined that it could have been that building over there because it has a doctor’s name in the plaque.
M. KIM: Could be, yeah. So, he was walking. Then he never came back. And, I guess they started looking for him. They started calling his doctor’s office. The doctor’s office said he never came in. So, they were concerned. They went out [to] look for him and they found him on the curb, pretty much he was dead. He had had a heart attack on his way to the doctor’s office.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my goodness.
M. KIM: The wife of Mr. Grubb was not a pharmacist and I guess at that point she didn’t really know what to do. So, she had ended up just selling it. I don’t know if she sold it or gave it, almost handed it over to Ed Dillon. And so he took over in 1967. And he owned and operated the business until 2003. [That] is when I stepped into the picture. So, now, I was a student here that did a rotation in 1997.
DEUTSCH: You were a pharmacy student?
M. KIM: Yeah. And then I graduated in 1998.
DEUTSCH: Where were you in school? We will get back to that.
M. KIM: Right here in DC, Howard University, the College of Pharmacy. And, so, after I did my rotation here, Ed offered me a part-time position as I went through school. So, I did that for about a year. Once I graduated in 1998, he offered me a position here as a pharmacist. So I took that. And, you know, I worked here for about five years, 1998 through 2003 as a pharmacist. At that time, I was starting to get some other offers from different companies to come work for them. And, so, I came back to Ed and I let him know that I was getting offers and I needed to know what was here for me. So that’s how the whole conversation about pharmacy ownership came about. And so the rest is history. You know, we drew up a contract. It was a three-year kind of exit plan for him.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, I remember that.
M. KIM: And his minority partner at that time, Jeanette Partilla. And so from 2003, I bought in 30% of the business at that time and then we transitioned out over the period of three years. In 2006, in January, I bought the 70% remaining part of the business.
DEUTSCH: So tell me a little bit about each of you. Where did you grow up?
J. KIM: I grew up in South Korea. Seoul, Korea, until I was about eight. My dad was the regional V[ice] P[resident] for a Korean steel company, so he came to New York with the family for about four years. And we went to school. Then we went back after the four-year term was over. After four years in New York, we went back to Korea because we were just stationed there for four years. I went to junior high and high school and one year of college in Korea. And then, my dad got another job in an American steel company as their V.P. So, we just moved back into New York. But it was in Queens, New York, where I went to school.
DEUTSCH: Where did you go to school?
J. KIM: I went to St. John’s University, School of Pharmacy. And, then, I graduated.
DEUTSCH: So, right from the start, you did pharmacy.
J. KIM: Well, actually, I did pre-med for a while and then I realized my parents are not going to be able to afford medical school. So, I started working and paid through pharmacy school for myself. Finished that in five years.
DEUTSCH: So, when you moved to the States, when you were eight, when you came for the first time, did you speak English?
J. KIM: No, not at all.
DEUTSCH: So, how was that? Do you remember? You were young enough, I suppose, that it wasn’t too …
J. KIM: I think when you’re about eight years old you catch on. By the end of the first year, my teacher was already calling my parents saying, “Joan is too talkative. You need to have a talk with this girl.” [Interviewer laughs.] So, I guess I didn’t struggle after the first year. But I did struggle after I went back. If you transition that quickly, your original tongue …
DEUTSCH: So, then, when you went back to Korea it was hard?
J. KIM: Then I was tongue-twisted. I could hear what people were saying but you can’t speak at the level of fluency that you’re used to. So, it took me another year to catch up.
DEUTSCH: Well, you obviously did okay.
J. KIM: You know, I wouldn’t say I’m bilingual. But it’s not that uncomfortable for me to speak English.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Your English definitely sounds native.
J. KIM: People keep saying I have an accent. I’m like, “It’s a New Yorker accent! It’s not a … “ [All laugh.]
DEUTSCH: Right. So, how about you? Where did you grow up?
M. KIM: I grew up in Laurel, Maryland. [All laugh.]
J. KIM: Thus, the drawl.
DEUTSCH: How exotic.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. It was very exotic there. So, originally, I was born in Korea as well. My parents, they immigrated here in 1972, so I was about three years old when I came over. And they moved to Laurel, out of all the places.
DEUTSCH: Do you know Steve Park? Do you know who Steve Park is? Steve was an honoree a couple of years ago. And I think he grew up in Laurel and his [family was], you know, immigrants from South Korea.
J. KIM: Well, it’s not uncommon …
DEUTSCH: And he runs Little Lights. Little Lights is a tutoring organization over at Potomac Gardens.
J. KIM: Oh, my goodness.
M. KIM: No, I don’t know him personally but it’s possible that the families know each other.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, probably.
M. KIM: It was a fairly small community of Korean immigrants that lived there in Laurel. So, that’s where I grew up pretty much all my life.
DEUTSCH: Okay. So, you were three, so no problem learning English.
M. KIM: No, the problem was learning Korean.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. How did you do that? Did your parents speak to you in Korean?
M. KIM: They did speak to me in Korean. But they never taught me proper …
J. KIM: Academic Korean.
M. KIM: Yeah. How to speak right properly. So whatever I said, I was trying to imitate what they would say, and they would probably be all jumbled up. But they understood what I was saying or they knew what I was trying to say. But they never corrected me, so … [Interviewer and interviewee laugh.]
DEUTSCH: Right. So, your English is better than your Korean.
M. KIM: Yes. It still is.
DEUTSCH: I mean I’m kind of jumping around here, but have you all traveled back and forth to Korea or …
J. KIM: Yeah. Different occasions, to see family. But, as a family, all eight of us traveling, we only did that one time in monsoon season and we swore we would never do that ever again with the kids. It was not fun. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Okay, so, you’re in Laurel. And, then, how did the two of you meet? Where’d you go to college?
M. KIM: All my schooling was in Laurel, of course. Right? Because that’s where I grew up. Laurel High School. And, then, I went to University of Maryland, College Park, for undergrad. And, then, from there I went to Howard University College of Pharmacy for grad school.
DEUTSCH: Okay. And, what did your father do? I mean was this a tradition?
M. KIM: No, no. My father, going back to when he was in Korea, he was a chef there. And when he immigrated here, I think he had big grand ideas about opening a big restaurant and being the master chef and all of that stuff. Of course, things don’t go the way you plan. But they did stay in the food industry for most of their lives. They ended up opening small carry-out restaurant-type businesses down in Baltimore. So I spent a lot of time in my childhood in Baltimore, just following them to the business, helping them out there, and just, you know, traveling back and forth. And so, that’s what they did. They were just business owners. They owned and operated small restaurant type businesses.
DEUTSCH: That’s where, in a way, you’re following in their footsteps, not by being a chef but by your running a business.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: So, how did the two of you meet?
M. KIM: It’s a fairly fun story. [Interviewer laughs.] Yeah. This is our second marriage, for both of us. And after the first spouse––the separation from the spouse in different ways for both of us––we both ended up on Match.com when Match.com first came out.
J. KIM: AOL.com.
DEUTSCH: That was not what I was expecting to hear. Okay?
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: I know.
DEUTSCH: And I assume you each had children.
J. KIM: Yes, I had two children.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. So, Joan had two boys. I had two girls.
M. KIM: And they’re all, you know, pretty close in age at that time. They were only, what, three and …
J. KIM: One and four and then three and five. So, mine were three and five for the boys.
DEUTSCH: Very young. Okay. So, you go on Match.com. [Laughs.]
M. KIM: Yeah, we go on Match.com. I was on Match.com probably first and I was using the platform to just meet some new friends, companions, you know. [Interviewer and interviewee laugh.] Whatever you want to call it, potential spouses. And one day—I don’t remember how Joan ended up getting on there but she was on there and she ended up on my Match feed. I reached out to her, and her screen name or her username at that time was “Funny Mommy.” So I guess my pickup line, you know, [my] online pickup line, was “Hey, guess what? I’m a Funny Daddy.” [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: And it was a marriage made in heaven.
M. KIM: Yeah. Maybe Joan wants to add something to that.
J. KIM: No.
DEUTSCH: Well, I do want to hear that but, this is kind of a personal question, but were you looking specifically for someone Korean?
M. KIM: I was not, no. And I don’t think Joan was either.
DEUTSCH: I mean when you said that to Funny Mommy, did you know she was Korean?
J. KIM: We had never seen each other.
DEUTSCH: You had never seen each other.
J. KIM: On purpose.
M. KIM: I don’t think she had a profile picture on there.
DEUTSCH: Well, that’s interesting.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I guess that the interesting part about the whole online dating is that sometimes it just matches you based on other criteria …
M. KIM: … not specifically, unless you have specifically, you know …
DEUTSCH: Right, unless you say that’s what you want.
M. KIM: Right, exactly.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. [Laughing.] So, what do you remember, Funny Mommy?
J. KIM: Funny Mommy. Well, I mean, we say it with a smile now, but mine was a very tragic story as was his, because, you know, I became a widow at 32.
DEUTSCH: What happened to your husband?
J. KIM: And it was very tragic. He had mental health issues and we had lost, like, millions of dollars in the stock market, if you remember the beginning of 2001. Everything crashed.
J. KIM: I mean we had a comfortable home in Manhattan, had a big business, and had lots of money in the stock market obviously, like everybody else. But, you know, when your mental health is challenged, you don’t see a way out.
J. KIM: He was struggling, had to put him into hospital, but in the end, he committed suicide in the home. So, it was very tragic, very, very tragic.
DEUTSCH: And you have a one-year-old and a three-year-old.
J. KIM: No, I had the three and a five-year-old.
DEUTSCH: Oh, three and five. You [M. Kim] had the one and the three.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm. So, after I became a widow, I was working as a pharmacist full time, living in Manhattan. But, for some reason, I used to tell myself, “I will not date anyone that doesn’t have property in Manhattan zip code. You may not date me if you’re from the Bronx.” [Interviewer laughs.] “Or Queens, or Brooklyn.”
M. KIM: Or Laurel, Maryland. [All laugh.]
J. KIM: Well, I mean, I used to …
DEUTSCH: You can forget about that.
J. KIM: I would set [my preferences] to Manhattan only. Right? Isn’t that funny? But I think his net was like [a] thousand square mile radius.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: So, of course, I would appear on his radar. He would never in a million years … When he said, like, “I am from Laurel.” “Where the heck is Laurel?”
DEUTSCH: Where’s that?
J. KIM: I’d never heard of this thing. And the funny thing is I get an invitation from my closest friend from pharmacy school saying, “I’m getting married in Laurel next month.” Like, “Where in the heck is Laurel that all these people are from and going to Laurel?” [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: That gave you an ideal opportunity to meet this guy.
J. KIM: To meet with him. Yeah, yeah. So it was interesting that things unfolded that way. And more interestingly, even before I met him—I think it was, like, April of 2002, right? I had just had a spring break with my kids and a nanny and we stayed a few blocks away from here for the entire week and then I went back. And, then, we started …
DEUTSCH: So, why’d you come to DC for your spring break?
J. KIM: Just because we’re traveling from New York and I said, “Let’s visit our nation’s capital with my little ones.” We came here and we were staying, I think, walking distance from here. So, it is very strange that things unfolded that way.
DEUTSCH: So, you met at the wedding? Or when you came down for the wedding?
J. KIM: I said, “I am coming down for the wedding but it is improper for me to be the first one to come see you. So, you must travel up to New York City to Penn Station.” By then, he showed me a picture of himself. Because before then he sent me pictures of sumo wrestlers and all these different people and said, “This is what I look like. I hope you don’t judge me by my looks,” and all of that kind of stuff. [M. Kim laughs.] I said, “As long as you don’t stink, I’m okay.” Right? Then he sent me a picture. But even then we didn’t know what our occupation was. We kept it a secret. Our heritage …
DEUTSCH: This was definitely meant to be, you know.
J. KIM: But in that picture that he sent I saw, like, ibuprofen bottles or chemical bottles. I’m, like, “This guy is not exciting, he’s a pharmacist. I can tell.” [All laugh.]
DEUTSCH: A Korean pharmacist.
J. KIM: My goodness, right? But he didn’t know what I looked like. I told him, “If I go down to Penn Station, I take a look at you, and if I don’t like what I see, I think I’m going to walk away.” [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: “I’ll just keep walking.” So, you actually met at Penn Station.
J. KIM: Yeah, yeah. That’s when we first met and went out to dinner.
M. KIM: Yeah. We spend that evening, dinner, and then I stayed in a hotel and I ended up coming back the next day. But, you know, we spent some time together there in New York before she actually came down for the wedding.
DEUTSCH: And I guess it didn’t take too long to decide you were going to get married.
J. KIM: Yeah, yeah. Although my little boy was not very particularly fond of him in the beginning. Now they’re best chums. You know, that’s the one that went to pharmacy school, of all things. But in the beginning, he was, like, “I don’t like this daddy. Can I get another one?” [Both Kims laugh.]
DEUTSCH: So, when did you get married?
J. KIM: October 15.
M. KIM: October 2003.
DEUTSCH: Up in New York?
J. KIM: No, I had the wedding down here in Laurel.
DEUTSCH: Okay, so, let’s see. You’re already—I forget the time frame. Are you already here? [referring to Grubb’s Pharmacy.]
M. KIM: Yep, I’m already here. 2003 is when I just had taken over 30% of the business here, so I’m already working as a pharmacist. Yeah. Joan is working as a pharmacist in New York. And, so, we’re communicating, you know, sometimes during work hours and things like that. But, yeah, I was already here.
DEUTSCH: And, so, then you lived in Laurel? You got a place in Laurel? Where’d you live when you …
J. KIM: Yeah, we lived in Laurel in a house. But before then, before I came down here with my kids and got married, I was part-timing in Grubb’s because they were really short staffed back then, too. They were punching out so many prescriptions with just Mike. And he was here until way late in the night by himself, just finishing things up every day. I said, “I’m going to come down and help you.” So, I used to come down, like, two times a week or something to just, you know, lighten the load.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. So, she was working here. You know, we didn’t really make our relationship public to the staff or anyone else. Whether it was obvious or not, I don’t know. But [laughs] we tried to keep it professional at work since she was also an employee here. But who knows what people thought?
J. KIM: Everybody probably came to you and said …
DEUTSCH: Okay, so you got married. And you obviously had two more children.
J. KIM: Yes, and that story is very interesting because when I came down here, I went to see an OB [obstetrician]. And that doctor told me, “You have symptoms of having a pituitary tumor.” So, I got that checked out. And, indeed, I had tumors in my pituitary. So, they said, “You probably will never get pregnant again. You can’t get pregnant.” So, I said, “You know what, I think I’m going to open up my own pharmacy. I’m sick of, you know, working for chains and other people. I think I want to start my own place.”
DEUTSCH: “I’m never going to have any more kids.”
J. KIM: Yeah. “I’m not going to have any more kids. I’m just going to do my own thing.” So I opened up the shop. The day before inspectors come in to open the pharmacy in Laurel, Maryland—it’s called Main Street Pharmacy there—I go and I have a little funny feeling. I change these light bulbs on my ten-foot ceiling, you know. On top of the ladder, I change all the bulbs. I come down. I go in and do an EPT [Early Pregnancy Test] test and [exhales]. . . [Interviewer laughs.] There he is, my junior. [Both laugh.] His name is Benjamin, actually. He’s like an identical carbon copy of Mike. But I had the kid and I was pregnant during the whole first year of the store.
DEUTSCH: Running your own pharmacy.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm. So, it was like this. And then I get pregnant again, like, right after having that baby. I’m, like, all of a sudden, I’m Fertile Myrtle, having kids. So, my customers saw me in pregnancy clothes for a good three years. They’d never seen me wear regular clothes. But it was fun times in Laurel, as well.
DEUTSCH: And what did you have? So, now you had two girls and two boys. And, then, what did you get?
J. KIM: I got two boys.
DEUTSCH: Two more boys.
J. KIM: Apparently, I only know how to make boys.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah. Okay. I’m sure the blended family is interesting. So, the kids range from what age to what age?
J. KIM: So, the youngest one is now 15, oldest one is turning 26. There is like an 11-year gap.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Nice.
J. KIM: But they get along—I don’t want to say better than other people’s kids. But because they’re children from past hurts, they’re very compassionate and empathetic towards each other. I’ve never seen them, like, scream or yell or fight with each other out loud. Maybe they beat each other up behind closed doors, who knows? But they seem to get along really well. Even now when they’re out of the city, you know, they call each other, check in on each other all the time.
DEUTSCH: Isn’t that nice?
J. KIM: It’s really wonderful to see.
DEUTSCH: So, there are two in pharmacy school?
J. KIM: Yeah, Number Two and Number Four, one of my boys and one of his girls in pharmacy school.
DEUTSCH: That’s so nice. So, once you all got here, what were the main sort of issues that confronted you or what was the challenge?
M. KIM: In terms of the pharmacy?
DEUTSCH: In terms of the pharmacy, yeah.
M. KIM: Well, let me backtrack to 1997 when I first walked in here as a student. I was probably the first student to ever come here as a student, for rotation, because they had never taken students before. And, so, when I walked in … You know, I remember getting my assignment from school. They said you’re going to Grubb’s Pharmacy. I’m like, “What the heck is a Grubb’s?”
So, I walk in and the name matched up with my vision of what it might be. It was really old, being the oldest pharmacy in DC, but it really looked old. I mean everything was just really old wood, and you can smell the old wood that you still smell in some of the places on Capitol Hill here. And it just looked and felt very old and dirty. So that was my first impression when I got here. For the first week or so, I was just like, “This is kind of really disgusting here.”
DEUTSCH: I won’t put that in. [Laughs.]
M. KIM: No. But you know what really opened my eyes was that prior to coming here, I had worked at other chain stores. I worked at Peoples Drug, which is now CVS, and I worked at Giant Pharmacy for about four years as well as a technician. So I was only used to what I saw at, you know, the box chain stores. And what really kind of opened my eyes was just the interaction that I saw between Ed and the customers that would come in. You know, the conversations that they would have and just that personal relationship that he had with so many of the customers. And on the pharmacy side, what we were able to do for our customers and for physicians. We were heavy into HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus], we were heavy into hospice, and compounding—you know, making special medications for hospice patients, Then just going way above and beyond, out of our way to even deliver to them at all hours of the night back then. And, for a period of time, I was the on-call pharmacist. So, you know …
J. KIM: Oh, I did that a few times when I used to wear the beeper.
M. KIM: Yeah.
J. KIM: They would page you, always at 2:00 in the morning on a Sunday.
DEUTSCH: Right. The worst possible moment.
M. KIM: Right, right.
J. KIM: And you would have to come and meet the nurse at the pharmacy to give them end of life …
DEUTSCH: This is for, like, pain medication?
J. KIM: It’s end of life things for hospice patients, yeah.
M. KIM: And it’s very difficult to refuse service, you know. You really want to do your best to help these people out.
M. KIM: I mean, it’s the end of life and you know that they’re with family and, you know, you want to make it as comfortable as possible for them. And that was something that really stood out to me, just watching, and then also participating, in this process, the level of care that we went above and beyond to provide to our patients. So it didn’t take me long to see the difference in the chain stores versus the independents who really, really care about what they’re doing.
DEUTSCH: So interesting. And, then, once Covid [Covid pandemic] came, that obviously brought a whole new set of challenges.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. We can go back to 2006, after I bought the pharmacy 100%. The first thing I did was renovate the place. I just tore out all of the old stuff and replaced everything, put new flooring in, you know. I was afraid that the building was going to fall at some point. Pretty much what you see now, today, is most all of the renovations that we’ve done. And we continue to renovate here and there because it just gets outdated after a while.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, it’s beautiful.
J. KIM: They actually had red velvet wallpaper.
M. KIM: It was all in the hallway. Yeah.
J. KIM: Everywhere.
DEUTSCH: Ooo. The red velvet wallpaper [undecipherable]
J. KIM: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
M. KIM: So, fast forwarding to Covid, which was basically two years ago now when it first started to emerge.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Right. Just this time of year that we first heard about it.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. You know, we started to hear about Covid and we knew that people needed to get vaccine. You know, FDA [U S Food and Drug Administration], CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], everybody was working to develop vaccines and, as a pharmacy, we knew that we needed to be a part of that distribution of vaccinations. Now, at first, CDC …
J. KIM: … was testing. HHS [US Department of Health and Human Services] testing was first, right?
M. KIM: Yeah, that comes a little … No, actually …
J. KIM: That’s before. Vaccines came afterwards. See, remember, what happened was HHS reached out to us and wanted us to start [diagnostic] testing. At that time we could not test on our own, so what we would do is we would collect … Outside on the curb, people would park their cars. We would collect [nasal swabs] through the window. We would instruct them to do it themselves and collect it through their window and then we would mail it out. That’s how it was happening.
DEUTSCH: This was during the first year, before there was a vaccine, right?
J. KIM: The first—yeah, yeah. No, this was a very primitive, [the] very, very beginning when no one can test. There’s no collection sites, there’s no Covid testing centers, nothing like that. It was just us. We were one of the first people that were collecting samples in DC.
DEUTSCH: In DC?
M. KIM: In DC, yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: And, you know, Health and Human Services directly contacted us to do that.
M. KIM: Yeah. So, that was June 2020.
J. KIM: The middle of summer.
M. KIM: Yeah, middle of summer. It was hot.
J. KIM: All garbed up. [Laughs.]
M. KIM: Yeah, it was hot.
J. KIM: Outside.
M. KIM: Yeah. Oh, everything. You know, you had to get the gown on and the gloves and the mask and, you know, all that stuff. It was a funny time because everything was new and, like Joan said, we partnered with HHS and also with our wholesaler, McKesson, who was in partnership for this whole thing as well.
DEUTSCH: Who was that?
M. KIM: McKesson [Health Systems]. They’re a distributor.
M. KIM: Health Mart is the branch, the division that was involved with HHS to make this thing happen. And I think literally, like, a week after we started testing, word got out that we were doing this and it got back to the Board of Pharmacy. And the Board of Pharmacy actually sent someone out to shut us down. Now, we were about to go to the press with this.
DEUTSCH: And what was their …
M. KIM: The reasoning?
J. KIM: “I never authorized you to do this.” That was their only reasoning. “You never asked me first.”
M. KIM: Right. And it was pretty evident it was kind of a power struggle, [a] power play that they felt like they were left out of the process.
J. KIM: The loop.
M. KIM: And they were. But we didn’t feel the need to include them either because it was …
DEUTSCH: Well, if HHS asked you to do something, you sort of assume, you know, that they’re …
M.KIM: Yeah, right, right. Yeah. So we were actually shut down for about two weeks sorting this thing out. The first thing I did was report it back to HHS and they had their people contact the people in DC and then there was this power struggle going on of who has …
J. KIM: Jurisdiction, yeah.
M. KIM: Jurisdiction over this. And, so, in the end, you know, HHS got the Attorney General to write a very powerful letter to DC saying, “Hey, according to the PREP Act [the Public Readiess and Emergency Preparedness Act] and all this other stuff, what we do trumps what you can do in this situation. So you guys need to just allow Grubb’s Pharmacy to test and, if you take any retaliatory action against Grubb’s or Michael Kim, you know, we will come …”
J. KIM: “ … after you.”
M. KIM: “After you,” right. So, it was a very nicely worded letter to DC.
DEUTSCH: That was from HHS.
M. KIM: From HHS to the District of Columbia government. At that time, once we knew that that letter was sent, we opened up operations and we weren’t really worried about the Board of Pharmacy coming down to do anything to us.
DEUTSCH: Is that when you built the little hut? [A small structure built on the pharmacy property for testing and vaccination.]
J. KIM: No. In the beginning we were outside in the tent all summer. And then it became available, BD Veritor, which is the antigen test. And then we also had an antibody test that we were doing. But because of DC regulations, you have to do it outside. You’re not allowed to bring it into the pharmacy, at risk of contaminating others. So we were forced to stay out there, the whole summer, the whole winter. But by, I want to say, January, me and my head pharmacist downstairs were wearing our winter coats and our ear muffs and everything, and we were, like, “We cannot do this anymore. It is too cold!”
M. KIM: Yeah. Once it got really cold, we had to come up with a solution of continuing to test outside. And that was actually around November, December.
J. KIM: Was it? It was very, very cold. Yeah.
M. KIM: Yeah. But it got cold.
DEUTSCH: So, that was December of 2020 that you got the [outside structure]?
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: It was a very temporary. One weekend we were going to be here for a little bit and it’s going to go away.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.
M. KIM: So, we built it, thinking that it’s going to be temporary, just for a few months at the most, to test. It was cold and I remember it was cold in there. We didn’t have heat, so we had just portable heaters in there to keep the inside warm.
DEUTSCH: To keep your feet from freezing.
M. KIM: Exactly. Yeah. [J. Kim laughs.] And, then, you know, we got into the summer months. So, like around May or so, it started to get hot. And, then, that acted like an oven. Being in there was like an oven because we didn’t have any air conditioning in there. We had fans in there and, originally, we just built a little exhaust fan to just pump the heat out.
J. KIM: Blow it out. Mm-hmm.
M. KIM: But it just was not enough for the heat. So, we actually ended up installing an air conditioning system, which finally cooled the thing down. So, now we have heat and AC. You know, it’s just been whatever the issues were, we responded to it by doing what needed to be done.
DEUTSCH: And then, once the vaccine came along …
J. KIM: Oh, my, yes.
DEUTSCH: … then you had a lot of business out there.
J. KIM: Yeah, we had to because we could only have about six people inside the store at the same time because of the distance [that was required between individuals in lines]. We had to have people waiting outside in the lines so they [could] just kind of wait their turn. But, because we have a scheduling platform, it’s not like hours and hours of waiting like some of these testing centers.
DEUTSCH: No, no. It was great.
J. KIM: You just make the appointment …
DEUTSCH: Especially for me, living one block away. I remember … In fact, I was so impressed that I came over early in the morning and I said something like, “Do you have any appointments available?” or something. No, I would have seen that online. I don’t know. But, in any case, I saw you here early in the morning and I came back and found out you had opened up some appointments late in the afternoon. And I came back and got a test. And I thought, “Well, she’s had a pretty long day there. In the little hut.” [Laughs.]
J. KIM: Oh, yes. My goodness. I haven’t touched a pill bottle for months and months because I was just stuck out there testing and vaccinating.
M. KIM: Yeah. One of the challenges is really the staffing because it requires pretty much a full-time pharmacist or a nurse or someone to be testing and, then, also another one to be vaccinating because of the volume that we were getting. And, you know, with the FDA and CDC continuing to authorize another shot, another booster, and, then, another age range. And I think the next one that’s going to come out is going to be the kids from two to five years old.
DEUTSCH: Right, right.
M. KIM: So, that will be another hurdle.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. That’s something to look forward to. Yeah, yeah. Do you have any sense when that will happen?
J. KIM: They said this month, right? February.
M. KIM: February. Yeah, yeah, probably this month sometime. [The FDA authorized Covid vaccination for children between the ages of six months and five years in June 2022.]
DEUTSCH: And, then, I sort of joked with someone downstairs, “Then won’t they tell us that we need to boost our booster?”
M. KIM: Yeah.
J. KIM: Oh, yes. A fourth shot’s going to come around. Israel is already mandating everybody in their country to get their fourth shot.
DEUTSCH: Are they? Yeah.
J. KIM: So, I think we are there. [The FDA approved a fourth dose of Covid vaccine for people over age 50 and certain others in March 2022.]
M. KIM: Definitely. And, yeah, the real question I think everyone has, including us, is how long is this going to continue in terms of the booster shots? I think most people are pretty sure that it’s going to be a regular routine shot, but …
DEUTSCH: Like your flu shot.
M. KIM: Like your flu shot, yeah. But is it going to be once a year, twice a year, every six months, or, you know, what’s that going to look like? I think they’re working on technology and most likely it’s going to be, probably, like a flu shot. But the strange thing about this Covid is that everybody’s gotten it at different times of the year, throughout the year. So, what does that look like down the road in terms of getting the shot? Is it going to be a year-round thing, where it depends on when you got your last shot?
J. KIM: Most likely.
DEUTSCH: Well, it’s all so sort of an interesting thing to observe in the sense that, you know, we have become so risk averse in this country. It’s like we want a guarantee that nothing bad is ever going to happen to us, you know. I mean, the way it happened for schools. You know, would you rather have your kid in school with some risk of getting somewhat sick or at home in front of a computer for years?
M. KIM: Yeah.
J. KIM: And having mental health issues, social issues.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. I think it’s an interesting. I’m sure sociologists will be writing about it for years. It is an interesting conflict.
J. KIM: I met a lot of babies that were born during this time and they don’t know how to react when you take their mask. When you take your mask off or their mask off, they are very skittish. They don’t know how to interact with strangers.
DEUTSCH: Actually, I got two Covid grandchildren. But, fortunately, they went to daycare. I mean they started daycare during … They were both born in December––well, one in December and one in November of 2020. So they were home until they were, like, three months old or four months old. But then they went to daycare. So, they’ve seen lots of people.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: That’s good.
DEUTSCH: And I’m glad.
J. KIM: [Laughing] That’s very good.
M. KIM: I think we all know humans are not made to be isolated, you know. We’re made to have contact with each other and interact. So, it’s very interesting times and you’re right. I think the sociologists are going to have a field day for the next decade.
DEUTSCH: Right. Figuring it out.
M. KIM: Yeah.
J. KIM: So, while the whole country was being shut down, we did not have the luxury of staying home, ever. We came to work every day––during the riots, during the shut downs. Ninety percent of our employees not showing up for work for whatever reason—Covid, snow, riot, fear, or collecting unemployment checks, whatever it may be.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. That must have been challenging.
J. KIM: Still is.
DEUTSCH: Did you experience the January 6th—was there a lot of overflow down here?
M. KIM: No, it wasn’t the January 6th riots [at the US Capitol]. It was in the summer before January 6th it happened. So, there was …
J. KIM: The George Floyd …
M. KIM: Yeah, it was the George Floyd [protests in May 2020 after the death of George Floyd when in police custody in Minneapolis], yeah.
DEUTSCH: Was it the George Floyd—yeah. We were out of town when that …
M. KIM: Oh, my goodness.
J. KIM: So, we had break-ins like you would not believe.
DEUTSCH: Oh, that’s right. I remember.
J. KIM: Yeah. Everything was boarded up, all four of our locations were raided. People vandalized. I mean …
DEUTSCH: It’s so nonsensical.
M. KIM: Yeah.
J. KIM: Opportunistic. Very opportunistic.
M. KIM: Yeah. My understanding is just about every single pharmacy in the District got broken into that evening.
DEUTSCH: Were things taken?
M. KIM: Oh, yeah, yeah. They were just …
J. KIM: Cleaned out.
M. KIM: Mostly just drugs. They didn’t worry about much else other than just trying to get as many of the drugs as they could.
DEUTSCH: [Sigh.] What a year.
M. KIM: Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Well, do you have a favorite happy memory of East Capitol Street?
J. KIM: Happy memory of East Capitol Street? During the last two years or the last 20 years?
M. KIM: I think a happy memory, at least for me and I’m going to guess maybe my wife, too, is us, during lunch break, just taking a walk.
J. KIM: Admiring the gardens.
M. KIM: Yeah. Just looking at all of the different plants and flowers and trees and just really appreciating the beauty of …
J. KIM: This neighborhood.
M. KIM: … Capitol Hill.
J. KIM: How people take pride in their homes and their neighborhood. We’ve gotten to know a lot of the neighbors in the last two years.
M. KIM: That’s a huge thing that’s really come out. In terms of what positive came out of this whole thing is …
J. KIM: The level of engagement.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. It surprised me how many people live on Capitol Hill that have never been to Grubb’s. Some of them have never heard of Grubb’s.
DEUTSCH: That would be surprising.
M. KIM: Yeah. Some of them have heard of Grubb’s or they’ve seen Grubb’s and they walk …
J. KIM: Don’t ever come inside.
M. KIM: … or they run. Yeah. They run past it every single day for the last ten years but they’ve never been here. Because they didn’t have a reason. All they know is CVS. These are mostly the younger generation who have moved here and they don’t know about Grubb’s.
[Paging from an internal speaker system.]
M. KIM: But it really has been a great opportunity to just interact with them, just to kind of show them, “Hey, this is independent pharmacy and this is what we do.” And, you know, we’re just really happy to meet everybody.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. So, you said you have four locations.
M. KIM: We did have four locations here in DC. Last year, I sold one location which was in Northwest. We’re actually in the process right now. We have a store in Georgetown called Morgan’s Pharmacy. And that’s the second oldest pharmacy in DC.
DEUTSCH: Oh, yeah. On Wisconsin Avenue?
M. KIM: Right off of Wisconsin Avenue, on P Street.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Is it Morgan’s or Morton’s?
J. KIM: Morgan, Morgan’s.
M. KIM: The one down here on Eighth and East Capitol is Morton’s.
M. KIM: And we’re in the process of selling that one to a nice young couple right now. Give them an opportunity at pharmacy ownership. So, we’re going to be down to two.
DEUTSCH: Where’s the other one?
M. KIM: Down in the Southeast, in Anacostia.
DEUTSCH: And do you personally, the two of you, spend a lot of time there?
M. KIM: No, we don’t. We have a partner that, you know, pretty much runs that operation there. We spend pretty much all of our time here at this location. This is our favorite location. [J. Kim laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Has it gotten easier to get employees?
M. KIM: No.
J. KIM: It is unbelievable. The chain stores are enticing people with sign-on bonuses. And I was shocked that people who genuinely loved working here would leave just because of a few dollars more.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. A bonus. Yeah.
M. KIM: Yeah. So, we’re having an extremely difficult time finding staff. But we talk to other colleagues across the country and it seems like a nationwide problem right now. Everyone’s having the same issues in terms of, you know, retaining staff and then also finding new staff. So my question has always been, during this whole pandemic, is “Where is everybody?”
J. KIM: Where did they go?
DEUTSCH: And what are they living on? I mean, if they’re not working, what are they living on?
M. KIM: Yeah. For a period of time, you know, we knew that a lot of people were taking advantage of the unemployment that was coming. But I think that’s over now. So …
J. KIM: I believe a lot of people are delivering food or going grocery shopping for other people and doing remote work and not leaving their homes unless they’re delivering food or groceries.
M. KIM: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
DEUTSCH: It is sort of a mystery. But we are very lucky to have you in our community.
M. KIM: Well, we’re lucky to have you guys who live in the community who continue to support us.
J. KIM: Support us. Yes. I mean, when we had the break-ins and all of those things, the neighbors really rallied around us. And it was really heartfelt. I mean, even in Morgan’s, you know, long-time customers will come in with little checks. “I want to pay for your door.” I’m like, “Miss Jones, you don’t have to do that. We have insurance.” But she’s like, “I really need to pay for your door. I feel horrible.”
DEUTSCH: Yes. I was out of town during those riots and I remember coming back and seeing that you were boarded up.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm. But we hired a painter to make, you know, pretty drawings on our boards, murals. We worked like that for months, in the dark.
DEUTSCH: Let’s see. Is there anything else? Do you have any special plans for the future?
J. KIM: Nutrition. We really want to encourage people to be mindful. It doesn’t matter how many drugs you take, if you’re not mindful of what you eat and how you live your life, you will always be on more and more medications. And, I hate to say it, but I am a pharmacist who is really not for taking more drugs. If you can be taking less, less is better. And we want to encourage people to really look at their health.
DEUTSCH: Oh, gosh. And, of course, we as Americans have [whispering] terrible eating habits.
J. KIM: Lifestyle habits.
J. KIM: We are guilty of working too many hours. But that’s why we’re selling a lot of our pharmacies and trying to spend more time at home. And we encourage our employees to even take an hour lunch break, which is unheard of in pharmacy.
DEUTSCH: Is it? You just kind of eat—you gobble standing up? Or you …
J. KIM: We did that for many, many years and it was just really weighing down on us. So, that’s why we’re building that yoga room, an hour break for employees, and things, too.
M. KIM: Yeah. When I originally implemented the one hour––you know, “We’re going to close the pharmacy for one hour so that everyone can take a break, have some lunch, and recharge.”
DEUTSCH: Right. So, you’re closed now. 12:00 to 1:00.
M. KIM: Yeah. And we’ve done that for several years. But, at first, you always get those customers who are really angry about that, you know. [J. Kim laughs.] Because that’s …
DEUTSCH: “It’s inconvenient for me.”
M. KIM: Exactly. “It’s inconvenient for me,” right. [All laugh.]
DEUTSCH: “What could be more important than me?”
M. KIM: Exactly. So, you know, the response is, “I am so sorry that it is inconvenient for you. But I have to think about our staff, our employees and the well-being of our staff as well.”
DEUTSCH: And I bet once you get used to it, you can come before or after.
M. KIM: Oh, sure, sure.
J. KIM: Or we will deliver to your office if you’re stuck at work. We don’t want you to leave work to pick up your prescription.
DEUTSCH: Do you deliver a lot?
J. KIM: We do a lot of deliveries. We do a lot of deliveries.
DEUTSCH: And have your kids worked here? Your pharmacy kids?
J. KIM: Oh, yes, they have. And, even the ones that are not in pharmacy. At least when they were in high school, I made them do deliveries and fill, you know, bubble packs and things like that that they can just … You don’t have to have a license to deliver medication, right? [Laughs.] So, they were helping out at different times, cleaning shelves or serving hot cocoa to little kids before they get their shots outside. That kind of stuff.
DEUTSCH: Oh, that’s so sweet.
J. KIM: They enjoy it.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. But the pharmacy school students, they were such a huge help to us, whenever they were at home.
DEUTSCH: Your two kids.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm.
M. KIM: And they were just—you know, it’s exciting to see that you are more—I mean, we didn’t have to force them to come to work.
DEUTSCH: They wanted to.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm.
M. KIM: They wanted to, they wanted to help. And I think they really got something out of it, too.
J. KIM: Yeah. Of course, of course.
M. KIM: They got hands-on, frontline experience that most of their friends probably had never experienced.
J. KIM: Of course.
DEUTSCH: And a very powerful reminder that it’s not just a job. I mean, it’s sort of a calling.
J. KIM: It is a calling. Mm-hmm.
DEUTSCH: I mean, what you’re doing is a calling. It’s not just a job.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.You’re right. It is more of a calling. If it was just a job, we’d just shut the door and go home and not worry about anything. But we’re always …
DEUTSCH: You wouldn’t be out there in the cold with the hot cocoa for the kids.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: No, definitely, definitely not. I mean, we always tell ourselves late at night when we’re driving home, “I’m sure there’s easier ways to make a living and this is probably not it.” It’s what we enjoy.
M. KIM: I think the other thing that we’ve been thinking about is how can we help the community here in terms of combining pharmacy with just babies and dogs. [J. Kim laughs.] You know. We go up and down East Capitol, especially up by the park, and all you see is babies and dogs.
DEUTSCH: Right, right. This is true. We’re nuts about babies and dogs.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah.
J. KIM: So, having had six kids to raise … We’ve had pets, but we’re more baby friendly. In my other pharmacies, I’ve had lactation consultants and, you know, a lot of baby products over the years. So, we want to encourage new moms to learn how to supplement and eat healthy and encourage them to come in and ask questions.
M. KIM: Yeah. I think that’s, again, that’s what I really appreciated about the whole test scene and vaccination. It’s increased our visibility to people who otherwise would never have visited us.
J. KIM: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M. KIM: It’s a great opportunity to reach out to them now.
DEUTSCH: Now what about the dogs? How are you going to reach out?
J. KIM: We actually get a lot of pet compounding.
DEUTSCH: Do you?
J. KIM: We get a lot of pet compoundings for dogs who are depressed, cats who are neurotic.
DEUTSCH: Aren’t cats all neurotic?
J. KIM: Some are worse than others. [M. Kim laughs.] And we do a lot of cats and dogs and some parrots and, you know, all kinds of animals. [Interviewer laughs.] We carry supplements for them and some hemp oil for them and things like that.
DEUTSCH: Well, you serve the whole family.
J. KIM: Yes. People love their pets and pets don’t come back and audit you for insurance and cry about their copays either. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: No. Pets are good. [Laughs.] Well, is there anything else that I should know or …
M. KIM: No. I mean, I think a lot of people want to know what we’re going to do with that—I call it the Covid lab. Some people call it the Covid shed.
J. KIM: Or annex.
M. KIM: Or the annex. What are we going to do with it is a really frequent question, once this whole pandemic is over.
DEUTSCH: And what’s the answer?
J. KIM: Tacos. Tacos. [Laughs.] Ice cream.
M. KIM: Well, it’d be awesome to take a vote from the neighborhood, like what would you like to see there? Is it going to be a hot dog stand or, you know, popcorn or what?
DEUTSCH: Ice cream.
M. KIM: Ice cream, yeah.
J. KIM: Oh, my goodness. I always tell this story of the little boy that came in to get tested. And his dad walks up to the window with him in arm and he goes, “We like chicken.” [All laugh.] We do look like a little ice cream stand or a taco stand.
DEUTSCH: That would be nice.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. But yeah, sometime in the near future here, you know, when things calm down a little bit, we’d like to have a … One thought we had was just having a neighborhood appreciation event here at Grubb’s. Just to say thank you to the neighborhood for supporting us and just …
DEUTSCH: Oh, my gosh. The feeling would be so mutual.
M. KIM: That would be awesome, I think. We’ll definitely plan for that, maybe in the early fall, maybe. When the weather is not so hot. Either spring or fall, we’ll see what happens.
J. KIM: Well, yeah, by then I think people will just show up with their masks on if it’s still necessary, since it’s going to be outside.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah. But we have nice falls here so an outdoor event in the fall would be good.
M. KIM: Yeah, definitely.
DEUTSCH: Now, do you all remember Steve Cymrot [a neighbor and founder of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which is honoring the Kims.]? Did you know Steve? Were you here when he died?
M. KIM: Oh, yeah. He was a longtime customer. And, you know, when he did die, when he had his accident, we provided a lot of the video footage so that they could analyze what had happened, things like that. So, yeah.
DEUTSCH: It was such a tragedy.
M. KIM: Yeah, yeah. It was, it was. I mean, it’s hard to know what to say in those type of situations.
DEUTSCH: Oh, it was just horrible. Yeah, yeah. Well, I’ve been a lot more careful crossing streets ever since then. But Nicky [Steve Cymrot’s widow] is just an amazing person and she’s carried on.
M. KIM: I know. She’s incredible.
DEUTSCH: Very positively.
M. KIM: Yeah. That’s pretty much all I have at this point.
DEUTSCH: Well, thank you. This has been really fun. I’ll stop this now.
END OF INTERVIEW