Janet Fritsch could tell you her pharmacy career was born of a passion for chemistry, and she’d be partly right. But it had just as much to do with full computer programming classes.

The Cobb native was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison planning to study computer programming, which in 1982 was a new and burgeoning field. But no classes were open. Fritsch’s mother suggested she take chemistry, one of her high school favorites. About a decade later, the programmer-turned-chemist bought the Corner Drug Store in downtown Baraboo.

So much for not using anything you learned in high school science after graduation.

This year, Fritsch celebrates her 20th year as the store’s owner. A recent anniversary party featured remarks from historian Paul Wolter on the store’s significant legacy. It opened in 1855 at the corner of Third and Oak streets. There it remained until the end of 1997, when Fritsch and then-husband Paul moved Corner Drug to its present location, half a block up Oak Street.

“It was just too crowded,” Fritsch said of the former location.

Corner Drug had grown busier after acquiring two other downtown pharmacies, buying Thompson Drug in 1995 and Troyer Drug in 1997. The store’s original location couldn’t be remodeled, so it was time to look for a new spot.

It found a new home in the old Woolworth building, which had been vacated by a business called Golf 2000. The building had an open floor plan ideal for a drug store, plus enough extra space to rent to a tenant. That space became home to the Village Booksmith.

“This was just what we needed,” Fritsch said.

The move spurred a renaissance on the block, as Fritsch and business partners acquired the neighboring Reinking building the next year, creating a complex that features businesses at street level — today these include Corner Drug, the Booksmith, Amber Moon floral shop and Oak Street Antiques – as well as a small-business incubator on the second level. Garden Party Café operates on the second floor in a former opera house above Corner Drug.

Wolter said Corner Drug is the longest-running store in downtown Baraboo, and Fritsch ranks among its longest-tenured owners. Corner Drug was the outlet for tickets to opening night at the Al. Ringling Theatre, Wolter said, and many locals learned of President Lincoln’s assassination from the pharmacy’s telegraph. “It was quite a hub of activity,” he said.

Expanding the store and offering a drive-through lane in the alley helped Corner Drug thrive in a new century, as did buying the pharmacy at the Medical Associates clinic last year. “They’ve breathed a lot of new life into it,” Wolter said.

While the move marked the most noticeable change in the store’s recent history, Fritsch said there have been several more advances behind the scenes. Today a machine counts pills and labels bottles, saving staff time. Even so, Corner Drug employs a full-time staff of 11, whereas the old location could fit only three workers at a time. Also, Fritsch has found a new market in providing pre-packaged medication organizers for senior living facilities and home care businesses.

Corner Drug is capitalizing on new opportunities, but also faces new threats. Fritsch said her stiffest competition today isn’t chain stores, but insurance companies offering medication by mail order. But those competitors lack what Corner Drug prides itself on most: Personal service from a knowledgeable staff.

“I love it that I know the people standing at my counters. I love that I know their parents and their kids,” Fritsch said.

Also creating uncertainty for all in the health field, including pharmacies, is impending federal health care reform. Fritsch said the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin is preparing to adapt to any changes coming from Washington.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with that yet,” she said. “I think a lot of it depends on things out of my control.”

What she can control is continuing to offer the personal touch. Not what you’d expect from a onetime aspiring computer programmer.

“I think I make a difference in people’s lives. That’s why I love my job,” she said.

“I’d like to go another 20 years in the store. I don’t want to go anywhere. I like it here.”