- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - A middle-aged woman walked into K Pharmacy on Westford Street on a Saturday morning late last month with an empty vitamin bottle in her hand, and Callie Pau scooted over to check the label.

Speaking in Khmer, Pau quickly guided the woman to the right shelf to find a new bottle of the same supplement.

Such simple assistance makes a big difference for many pharmacy-goers, particularly those who struggle to explain their symptoms in English, Pau said.

Pau should know. The store’s manager and her sisters, Helena Lee and Celine Ear, spent their childhood in Lowell and nearby communities, watching their friends accompany immigrant parents on errands to be their translators.

Pau’s parents immigrated from Cambodia, too.

Her father used to say he only could crawl, instead of walk, up the stairs after a long night shift at a local factory, Ear said. He would take any jobs that would come his way to send his daughters to college.

Now an adult, Ear, a pharmacist, and Lee and Pau, who have experience in pharmaceutical sales, and finances and accounting, respectively, are hoping to provide the kind of personalized services that people couldn’t get from large chain pharmacies.

That’s why they started K Pharmacy.

Pau said the business isn’t just for the Asian population.

“We are targeting everyone in the neighborhood,” Pau said. “We just wanted to give back.”

K Pharmacy, a family-owned pharmacy, opened in December, and is already becoming a staple of the lower Highlands neighborhood, with its location just outside Cupples Square. The section of the city is known for its convenience: From grocery stores to a barbershop to a bank, people can find a range of services needed for their daily lives within walking distance. Knowing a pharmacy was one of the few businesses missing in the neighborhood, Lee decided to open K Pharmacy.

“We have been getting good compliments,” Pau said. “This is a very friendly neighborhood. It’s like the heart of the city.”

Pau and her family moved to Lowell from Philadelphia in 1991. They lived in different sections of the city for two years before relocating to the Boston area for better job opportunities for their father.

Ear has a degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston and used to work for Walgreens as a pharmacist. She said she has always wanted to assist patients personally to see that they are satisfied. It gives a sense of reward, Ear said.

Pau said some patrons are pleasantly surprised to discover she knows them by name.

“Building up relationships with customers - that’s our focus,” Ear said.

Being able to work with her sisters is a bonus.

“They always teach us to love each other and help each other,” Ear said of her parents. “They don’t want to see one of us high and one down.”

The business took Lee about two years to plan and prepare. But Pau believes it’s worth the effort to be able to serve the community they once called home.

“Everyone needs a pharmacy,” Pau said.

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