The History of BLACKBURN'S
Established in 1936 as an independent community pharmacy, Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy, Inc. (d/b/a BLACKBURN'S) has grown into a leading regional provider of home healthcare products. The transition into the home healthcare market began in 1960 by providing medical/surgical supplies to hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, businesses and home care.
May 14,1934, Charles Edward Blackburn arrived shortly after 8 am at the 308 Corbet Street, Tarentum, PA location of the Central Drug Store.
It was his first day at work as a newly graduated pharmacist from the Pittsburgh College of Pharmacy. He had left earlier in the morning from Trafford, PA to make the trip in his automobile affectionately known as “old ironsides”. He closed the store that night at 11 pm and shortly after sat down in his rooming house and wrote a letter to his soon-to-be wife, Jane Jobe. “I certainly can’t imagine me lasting more that two weeks in this godforsaken town. If I do, it will certainly be out of necessity!” he related in the letter. Thus began the career of the founder of Blackburn’s.
In March 1936, a devastating flood enveloped the entire Allegheny River valley. It became known as the St. Patrick’s Day Flood. The business district of Tarentum was under more than 10 feet of water. There were two Central Drug Stores on Corbet Street in 1936. Mr. Blackburn was the manager of one and Elder Stein was the manager of the other. After the flood, the two managers had a disagreement with their general manager of Central Drug as to the disposition of the flooded merchandise in the two pharmacies. The result was the two managers quit Central Drug, each borrowed $500 from Dr Fred Wohlwend MD and began a new pharmacy on East Sixth Avenue, Tarentum, Pa. The new store was located in an area of Sixth Avenue where later the Huet’s Dry Goods and the Tarentum Hardware stores were located in the 400 block. The economic times of the Valley were hardly good enough to support both owners of the new pharmacy and within a year the partnership was ended. Mr. Blackburn remained as the owner and Elder Stein left the business. Shortly after, Mr. Blackburn moved the business to the Mauro building at Third Avenue and Corbet Street. where it remained until 1954.
Across the street from the Mauro Building was a lot the Borough of Tarentum owned. It had been the former site of the Caldwell Drug Store and in 1954 the lot was the location of the World War II Memorial Honor Roll honoring all those from Tarentum who served and died in the Great War. After arrangements were made to move the Honor Roll to the Riverview Park, Mr. Blackburn purchased the lot and constructed the location of the present Pharmacy. The original plans called for a two-story building the depth of the block from Corbet to Worth Streets. However, due to shortage of steel, the plans had to be greatly curtailed to a single-story building half the distance from Corbet to Worth Streets. In April, 1954, the grand opening was characterized as the “Valley’s First Truly Professional Pharmacy”. It had always been Mr. Blackburn’s dream to have a Professional Pharmacy without a soda fountain so when customers entered they would not smell food cooking! He achieved this and for many years the business had the reputation as a truly professional pharmacy. Through the’40s and ‘50s Tarentum existed as a thriving medical center with many physicians having their practices in Tarentum.
Then in 1956, the Heights Plaza Shopping Center opened along with it the Heights Plaza Medical Center. A shift in business to the Heights Plaza and a shift of many physicians to the new Medical Center had a negative effect on business in Tarentum. On top of this, various labor actions in the steel, glass and aluminum industries compounded the downturn. In 1956, Dr John Pacek opened a medical practice in Tarentum that was to grow into one of the largest General Medicine practices the Valley would ever see. It was a saving grace for the pharmacies in the Tarentum area. At Blackburn’s it became a pivotal time when the business began to transition from a neighborhood pharmacy into a medical equipment and medical supply business. Along with Dr Pacek’s practice he also brought into Tarentum a number of associated medical specialists. These specialists required many products that were not found in the average drugstore.
In 1963, Charles R. Blackburn graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and joined his father in the business. He had studied Biology and Chemistry at Allegheny College graduating in 1960 prior to entering Pharmacy School and became certified as an Enterostomal Therapist in 1969. With this background, he became the momentum behind the growth of the medical equipment and medical supply business.
In 1971, Charles R. Blackburn purchased the business from his Father, who retired from the Pharmacy after 35 years in business. Soon after Charles R. Blackburn became owner he met Ronald C. Rukas, a 1973 graduate of Duquesne Pharmacy School. Mr. Rukas joined the business as a partner in 1976. The business continued to grow and was incorporated in 1989. Also in 1989, a second business was incorporated in Erie, PA to sell medical equipment and medical supplies. During the 1980s the medical equipment business became more sophisticated with the development of ultra lightweight manual wheelchairs made from aircraft aluminum and power chairs with proportional controls and very sophisticated drive systems. Seating and positioning systems were fabricated at Blackburn’s. The Medical Equipment Department evolved into a Rehab Department with Georgie Blackburn as Manager. During this time Blackburn’s became very instrumental in establishing many outpatient wheelchair clinics in rehab centers throughout Western Pennsylvania.
In 1993, Mr. Charles R. Blackburn’s son Thomas J. Blackburn graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and joined the Corporation as Manager of the Pharmacy Department. By this time, the corporation was operating from four buildings in Tarentum. In 1994 a new department was formed to provide Bariatric equipment and Group II support surfaces to institutions and the homecare market in Western Pennsylvania including Erie as well as Cleveland, Ohio, Buffalo and Rochester, New York.
In May 2001, Ronald Rukas’ daughter Jessica joined the Corporation in the Medical/ Surgical Supply Department after graduating from Duquesne University. This department along with the Rehab Department grew to become the two largest endeavors in the development of the corporation’s business.
In November 2001, the Respiratory Department became the fifth department in Blackburn’s corporate structure with Thomas J. Blackburn responsible for its development.
In 2002, Ronald Rukas’ second daughter, Jamie Rukas Zampogna, joined the corporation after graduating from Duquesne University School of Pharmacy with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Jamie is the Manager of the Pharmacy Department and Thomas J. Blackburn was promoted to Vice President of Operations.
Blackburn’s has been in existence more than 70 years and has 150 employees serving Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York. The corporation has won many awards from manufacturers for high sales achievements. In 1999, Georgie Blackburn was appointed Director of Corporate Compliance and Blackburn’s became one of the first corporations in the industry to develop this position.
In 2005, BLACKBURN'S continues to adapt to changes in the healthcare delivery system. Our employees have become active in Congressional lobbying and are active in industry organizations to find ways to control the ever-increasing costs of healthcare in America. It is our desire to see everyone develop a healthy lifestyle to promote good health.
When Charles E. Blackburn started Blackburn’s Physicians Pharmacy, his goal was to build a professional pharmacy focused on providing high quality products and service for his customers. From the beginning, BLACKBURN'S success was attributed to providing the best customer service. This philosophy continues today with our corporate management team helping to grow BLACKBURN'S into one of the largest regional family-owned home medical equipment and supply provider in the industry.
Today BLACKBURN'S offers products and services encompassing all levels of medical equipment, pharmacy, respiratory, support surfaces, specialty products, bariatric equipment and medical supplies for use in the home and institutions.