With closing of independent pharmacy, a sense of community dies

I will always have a soft spot for the independent pharmacy, the scene of my most romantic achievement.

It was at the drug store counter in my hometown in 1971 that I consumed several hot fudge sundaes, trying to work up the courage to ask the classmate working behind it to the Thanksgiving dance at the high school.

She said “yes.”

“No, I mean with me,” I blurted, certain that there must have been some sort of misunderstanding.

Years later, my twin brother, a pharmacist, opened his own store with barely enough money to stock it. My late brother, parents, and I worked there in its early days.

On the shelves was one of everything. As people checked out, we had to write down what was being purchased, call the wholesaler, and order another one.

Eventually, he owned three stores before selling out to the big chain, which closed them all down.

So did the local who owned the pharmacy in my hometown.

And so too have the owners of Olivia Drug in Olivia, Minn., which closes for good at noon today. Thrifty White, the chain, has purchased it and another drug store, closed them down, and directed people to their new store near the hospital.

The new store won’t have a counter. There’ll be no place for the locals to gather every morning, the West Central Tribune reports.

There’s economy of scale in the move, of course. It’s the way things are. But we lose a big slice of what makes a community a community.

It takes a lot of work to run a small-town business, the Lohmeyers pointed out. There have been many Sundays and evenings when Gary Lohmeyer made special trips to the store to fill someone’s emergency prescription. Both have always put in long days, and have dealt with growing volumes of paperwork.

And always, they offered small-town service, from putting in new watch batteries to making home deliveries at no charge. “It’s like the saying, you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone,” said Gary when asked what the store’s closing will mean.

He began working at the drugstore right after graduating from pharmacy school in 1973. He purchased the business when the opportunity came up in 1978. He and Jane had caught each other’s eyes when he was making deliveries to the Olivia Nursing Home, where she had been working. They married in 1979.

The 1980s were boom years at the store. Giftware, crystal, wood works, collectibles, greeting cards and candy were among the big items on the retail side. Every town along U.S. Highway 212 had its own family-owned pharmacy with retail items, they said.

Competition from the big box stores, increased mobility by consumers, and the growth of convenience stores all served to chip away at the retail sales.

Through it all the counter was always busy, the Tribune says.

But people vote with their feet and big chains continue to squeeze the life out of communities because that’s the choice people have made.

Years from now, they’ll remember how great things used to be and wonder how it is those times disappeared.