Few businesses can boast a history of such growth, turmoil, resilience and success. Fewer have survived for such a long period and seen through so much change. Fewer still have been founded with the primary objective being to provide for a community without personal gain, and then successfully maintained that commitment for 128 years,” – From the Bendigo United Friendly Societies: A Goldfields Child 1872 – 2000, by Ray Wallace.
Bendigo UFS Dispensary opened on December 1, 1872 in McCrae St, Bendigo, with a membership of 1000. It was formed for the benefit of many Bendigo lodges, orders and friendly societies, providing medicines and medical advice to members, their wives and children.
The pharmacy’s pioneers were talented and diverse, many being successful in their own friendly society, civic affairs or politics.
In October, 1885, the dispensary purchased the Niagara Hotel, on the corner of Mundy and McCrae St, Bendigo, where it operated for the next 67 years. The grand United Order of Odd Fellows held their meetings in an upstairs boardroom and the peephole where the password was given is still in the door.
In June 1889, the Pharmacy Board took the dispensary trustees to court over an infringement of the Pharmacy Act, as it was selling goods to the public instead of only to members. After lengthy debate, the case was dismissed and shop sales were stopped to the public. This, along with the depressed economy of the time, had adverse effect on sales.
The pharmacy’s history tracks the social and health issues through the years. In the early days, lard, sugar and honey made up as much sales as drugs. During the late 1890’s, 120 prescriptions were dispensed daily, reflecting the severe measles and influenza epidemics which had hit the city.
In the early 1950’s, the dispensary moved from the Niagara to 68 Pall Mall, and membership levels began to drop. It wasn’t until the mid 1960’s that the membership rose to healthy levels of around 4,500 members. During the 60s, cosmetics became increasingly popular, a dental centre was established and the dispensary expanded into View St. The View St shop was never a great success, eventually closing in 1973 to make way for a new site in King St.
A decline in membership, bad debtors and $60,000 in the red made the 1980’s a time of crisis for the dispensary and in 1982, the dental clinic closed. This led to the dispensary opening its doors to the general public and in 1984, it started enrolling members, virtually off the street, for a $5 annual fee. During this year around 100 new members joined each month.
In 1994, the Pall Mall shop moved from 68 to 14, the former Favaloro’s Cafe, which was purchased for $385,000. After much work and restoration, the shop was opened in March, 1994.
During 2003 Bendigo UFS Pharmacies as it was known at this time began a phase of growth that was unprecedented in its history by purchasing a block of land at the corner of View and Barnard Streets which would later become the new site for the existing Pall Mall Store.
Before this occurred though the society purchased the Strathfieldsaye store in November 2004 from Shirley James. The Strathfieldsaye store became the third store in the group and was an essential element in the growth plans for the society particularly given its location in a vibrant and growing area of Bendigo.
Not long thereafter the Pall Mall store was relocated to a new purpose built pharmacy at the corner of View and Barnard Street. The intention of the new pharmacy was to be innovative and unique through features such as Bendigo’s first drive through script drop off, a coffee shop, consulting rooms for new services, baby change facilities and others.
Following on from this important event was an association developed with Central Victorian UFS Ltd which saw a fourth pharmacy shift from Box Hill in Melbourne to Maiden Gully and begin trading under the UFS Pharmacies brand.
In August 2007 the King Street Pharmacy relocated to larger site at 379 Hargreaves Street.
Along with the pharmacy, UFS introduced new services included a purpose built Day Spa and a new Optical Store.
With the additional stores at Maiden Gully and Strathfieldsaye, the new services and product ranges, and relocation of the Pall Mall store the group membership grew dramatically from just over 8,000 to in excess of 11,000 household memberships in the Bendigo region.
Over its history the society has mapped many social changes in Bendigo, from when lodges and orders were prevalent and people fought Miners’ Phthisis and other health epidemics. From when popular shop items were lard and sugar to today’s items of cosmetics, skin care and giftware. Although throughout this change the societies’ aim has remained the same; to exist for the benefit of its members and the wider Bendigo community.