Everett pharmacist served immigrant community

EVERETT — A pharmacist who created Shiraz Specialty Pharmacy, a south Everett storefront that caters to non-English speakers, has passed away.

Hatam Shafeean, 53, died May 18 from a massive heart attack.

About 300 people showed up to his memorial service earlier this month.

For immigrants with limited English, a trip to the pharmacy can be frustrating, if not dangerous.

The pharmacy Shafeean created is one of the few places in Snohomish County customers can find pharmacists who speak Russian and Spanish. Shafeean, who was from Iran, also worked with Farsi-speaking customers.

His employees and family say they plan to keep the business open, even as they struggle to come to terms with the sudden loss.

“He was a very courageous guy,” said Shiraz pharmacist Laura Fletcher. “Other pharmacies were dying on the vine and he found a way to open his own pharmacy.”

In a 2007 Herald story about the pharmacy, Shafeean told a reporter that more than half of his customers didn’t speak English.

Many were turned away from other pharmacies when the pharmacy clerks couldn’t understand their questions, he said.

Fletcher met Shafeean working at a chain drugstore. He chafed at the “crazy corporateness” and talked about opening a pharmacy where customer service was the No. 1 priority.

“It sounded so pie-in-the-sky, but next thing I know he’s opening his own pharmacy,” she said.

Shafeean’s personal story makes his business success even more remarkable.

As a young man in Iran, he aspired to be a journalist, but his outspoken views got him into trouble with the government.

He escaped by traveling across the deserts of Pakistan, living for a time in Spain. There he learned Spanish. In 1983, he immigrated to the United States, seeking political asylum.

He settled in the Seattle area, married and two sons soon followed. For a few years he supported his growing family by working low-paying jobs, including as a foreman at a cardboard box factory.

He dreamed of more for himself and his family.

He went to Shoreline Community College and in 1999, graduated from the University of Washington’s pharmacy school.

His eldest son, Yol Shafeean, remembers his father working all day and then studying through the night, hunched over a book into the early hours of the morning.

“He always wanted to open his business,” he said.

After working at drugstore pharmacies, Shafeean did just that, opening a tiny pharmacy in the summer of 2005 in a strip mall on Casino Road, a part of town with a high concentration of Spanish-speaking residents.

He called it Shiraz Specialty Pharmacy, after his home region in Iran. He hired employees who speak Russian and Spanish as well as English.

That small strip mall pharmacy has grown, taking over neighboring space that used to be a tavern.

The retail portion of the pharmacy is like any other with its mix of bedpans, cough drops and cold remedies.

There’s also an assortment of products that cater to immigrants, such as a line of herbal supplements, all in Cyrillic.

On a waiting room table, a stack of Farsi-language publications teeters.

Today, pharmacists stand behind orderly counters, sorting pills for delivery under fluorescent lights. Shafeean’s business thrived because he discovered another under-served niche: long-term care patients.

Heba Namatalla, a pharmacist at Shiraz, worked with Shafeean at a drug store before he became her employer.

He strived for a personal touch with customers, she said.

If someone needed medication and the pharmacy was closed, he would come in after hours. He also gave away some services and medications.

“He wanted to serve the public,” she said.

His sons intend on carrying on the business. So do his employees.

“That’s our goal — to keep it growing,” Namatalla said.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com

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