Pharmacy in Blue Ridge: Two generations of small-town pharmacy

September 16, 2014

Two fathers and their sons keep the ideals of small-town pharmacy practice alive for 65 years.

There are as many paths to rewarding pharmacy practice as there are pharmacists. Bill Tarr’s career has spanned community pharmacy, the military, and academe [“Flying into pharmacy”]. Pete Kreckel’s family can count retail, clinic management, university teaching, and third-party MTM ["All in the family”]. Fred Schenker practiced in the big city, but with a hometown touch [“Pharmacy: The family profession”]. Now Bill Prather remembers an old-fashioned pharmacy in a tight-knit small town.

My dad, NL Prather, RPh, is 95 years old, but he remembers very clearly the day that his widowed mother told him, “NL, I have made arrangements for you to attend Southern School of Pharmacy in Atlanta.”

My grandmother’s decision was based on her respect for and friendship with Dr. Whitfield at the Tate Drug Store in Tate, Ga. Unlike some of today’s young people, Dad was not going to argue with his mother, so he went to Atlanta and became a pharmacist. 

Upon graduation in 1941, he entered the U.S. Army, was attached to the 96th evacuation Hospital as a pharmacist, and served in Europe from D-day until VE Day.

The move to Blue Ridge

Dad had a job opportunity in Tate, but he decided to come to Blue Ridge, Ga., to begin his pharmacy career, hoping one day to own his own pharmacy. In fact, that’s how things worked out. Dad went to work for Blue Ridge Pharmacy in December of 1945 and very quickly was offered the chance to purchase the pharmacy.

Because of his Army service, Dad had never actually operated a pharmacy, so he called a classmate, W.A. Walden Sr., who had graduated in 1938 and operated a pharmacy before going into the Navy and serving as a pharmacist’s mate in the South Pacific.

Dad and Bill purchased Blue Ridge Pharmacy on a handshake and the promise to send the previous owner some money when they “got ahead.”

What ensued was a partnership that spanned from 1945 until 2010. 

Two dads, two sons, 65 years

Mr. Walden had a son, Bill Jr., and Dad had a son - me, Bill Prather. Bill and I both attended Southern School of Pharmacy in Atlanta (now Mercer University School of Pharmacy), just as our fathers had done, graduating in 1969 and 1970. We both came back home to Blue Ridge and went into business with our dads. It was truly a family affair, featuring NL and the three Bills.

Blue Ridge Pharmacy was what today would be called an “old-fashioned community pharmacy.” We had a soda fountain and a full-line front end, stocking everything from Epsom Salts to Save the Baby*, Lydia E. Pinkham**, and Hadacol***.

The store was open from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. till 10 p.m. on Sunday. Those hours changed through the years, becoming 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. We operated under the credos “You can’t sell it if you don’t have it” and “You can’t sell it if you’re not open.” 

 

We did it all

NL and Bill Sr. worked alone until Bill Jr. and I came home in 1971 and 1973. We did not use technicians, but did all the compounding, counting, pouring, and labeling of prescriptions ourselves. We would have been appalled if someone had suggested that anyone other than a pharmacist look after our customers (we had not started calling them “patients” yet).

We did all the counseling, a term that was not in the pharmacy vocabulary till much later. We just talked to our customers about their medicine, their aches and pains, and our recommended OTC remedies. We also talked about their dogs, cats, cows, horses, and hogs, and how the high school teams were doing.

We took care of their drug needs, worried with them about their sicknesses and those of their families, and mourned with them when someone passed away.

We used a Bates numbering machine and a manual typewriter, and we answered the phone personally.

For much of the time that we operated Blue Ridge Pharmacy, there were no 24-hour pharmacies, WalMarts, or 7/11s, so it was commonplace for NL and Bill Sr., and later Bill Jr. and me, to return to the store after hours, not only to fill prescriptions at all hours of the night (when I came back to Blue Ridge, doctors still made housecalls), but to sell batteries, film, baby formula, and other items that were drugstore staples, along with combiotic, penicillin, and pink-eye medicine for a horse, hog, or cow.  

For Bill and me, I think 1997 or 1998 was the first year that one or both of us did not go back to the store on Christmas or Thanksgiving. And all other days we were  open for business.

How we operated and did business was not unique to Blue Ridge Pharmacy. In fact, most small-town pharmacies offered the same services.

 

Goodbye to the small-town pharmacy

As times changed, so did Blue Ridge Pharmacy, coming into the computer age and beyond, to IV therapy and sophisticated compounding. Yet somehow it remained the same small-town pharmacy that knew when you were sick and cared when you died.

Nowadays, things have changed. Mr. Walden passed away. At 95, Dad is in assisted living. Bill and I sold the pharmacy and retired.

I don’t miss filling prescriptions. I do miss the relationships with my customers, aka patients, and I think they miss those relationships too. They say they do. I believe them.

* Save the Baby:A children’s salve used for coughs, colds, and congestion

** Lydia E. Pinkham:A “vegetable tonic” containing herbs, alcohol, and ethanol

*** Hadacol: A vitamin tonic containing alcohol and “dilute acid hydrochloric” (thought to promote rapid absorption)

Bill Pratheris a member of the Georgia Board of Pharmacy. E-mail him at billprather1@gmail.com.