The drugstore of fifty years ago was largely what the name implied: a store dispensing drugs, with a sideline of sundries.
And so E. L. Moore begins his article, Ye Olde Corner Drugstore, that appeared in the January 1965 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.
Corner Druggist is the account of an average man’s life in America during the past sixty years, and of the profession he loved: the doctor’s right hand, the father confessor of the neighborhood, the guardian of the public health - the physician’s cook.
And so Robert B. Nixon, Jr. introduces his book, Corner Druggist, published by Blue Ribbon Books in 1943, about his father’s life as a druggist.
The soda fountain was still in its infancy, and only a few of the 32 flavors (or is it 64?) had yet been dreamed up - chocolate and vanilla were the prime favorites of the day.
The soda fountain, as a matter of fact, revolutionized the drugstore. It was to the corner druggist what the Indians and minstrels were to the medicine man. It transformed a dark store, smelling of drugs, where people went only to cure their ills, to a place of cheerfulness, where people gathered to talk and enjoy themselves. When some imaginative fellow put a scoop of ice cream into the mixture of soda and syrup he had been selling, thus inventing the first ice cream soda, a new and perennially favorite American drink was discovered which was to prove a boon to the ill paid druggist.
Nixon, pg. 161-162.
The druggist and his family lived up over the store and therefore he was likely on call twenty-four hours a day;....
When a druggist lives over his store, he automatically goes on twenty-four hour duty, summoned at any time by the ringing of the night bell. There is no hesitancy on the ringing of the average person at waking up the druggist. That’s what he’s there for. That’s why he is in business. He shouldn’t kick
... he filled prescriptions, applied first aid when needed and suggested remedies for various ills.
The prescription counter becomes, often enough, a confessional, and one of Father’s characteristic poses was leaning forward to hear someone’s troubles, peering over his glasses and saying cheerfully: “I have something for that.” And as a rule he had something, whether it was medicine or advice that was needed.
The neighborhood drugstore, open long hours, was a central gathering spot.
The corner drugstore was an accommodation center much like a modern filling station. People come there to use the telephones or the rest rooms, to get free maps and free information, and occasionally to buy. So it was with the drugstore. Father said that loafers bought cigars in other places and came there to smoke them; that they bought drugs somewhere else and came there to be entertained. People dropped in for the weather report, to look at the thermometer, to buy two-cent stamps, to have specks taken out of their eyes.
Nixon, pg. 160
Also, the drugstore was likely one of the few places in which one could find a telephone.
In Father’s earlier days, before telephones were so universally used, the drugstore telephone booth was an additional attraction. Neighborhood people used the place as a headquarters, or I was sent running to their homes to carry the messages which came for them. One newspaper man hung out there for months, sending news to his city desk over the telephone.
Nixon, pg. 160
I chose Nixon as a name because of its brevity and also because it was the name of the author of “Corner Druggist”, a nostalgic account of his father’s life as a druggist.
Father put down the paper. “Human stupidity is bad enough,” he said wearily, “but human cruelty is the most hideous thing on earth. I wish to God I could feel that in some small way I had helped to fight it.”
And if a lifetime of tireless service in protecting the public health, an unceasing effort to add to the sum total of human welfare, and a rich and abiding love for his fellow man may be allowed to count, I think he did help.
Nixon, pg. 291.
Suspended in one window may be seen two “show globes” simulating the red and green filled globes which, in one form or other, may still be seen in many drugstores today. The origin of these symbols seems to be clouded, but Richard Armour in his charming and humorous book describing his youthful drugstore days, guesses they may now contain strawberry and mint flavors.
In the window on the side of the entrance was a large globe full of reddish fluid, and in the opposite window was a similar globe full of something greenish. Why those two objects, called show globes, are the symbols of a drug store has never been satisfactorily explained to me. Possibly their origin can be traced to medieval apothecaries, who needed something colorful and eye-catching to compete with barber poles. The red may originally have suggested blood or inflammation or the plague. The green might have meant the renewal of life, as in springtime green, but more likely it was intended to warn against biliousness. Today, with the modern pharmacist backed into a corner to the rear of the soda fountain, the red is probably strawberry and the green is mint.
Richard Armour explains what those globes mean on page 2 of his book Drug Store Days, published by the McGraw-Hill Book Company in 1959. (A tip of the blogging hat to Paul Zimmerman to alerting me to Mr. Armour's excellent book and the E. L. Moore connection.)
My neighbour a few doors down has small red and green globes hanging from the second floor balcony, but I think those are leftover Christmas decorations :-)