Cary’s Heritage

Cary’s Heritage: Drugstores were a vibrant part of Cary

July 14, 2014 

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John Adams works on a crossword puzzle at the lunch counter at Ashworth Drugs in downtown Cary in 2002. Half a century ago, Cary had two pharmacies – Ashworth and Mitchell’s.

SCOTT SHARPE — 2002 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Cary was a small place in the 1950s, but the town had two drugstores. Wayne and Jean Mitchell tell the history of Mitchell’s Pharmacy.

Wayne Mitchell: In 1950, John Henley opened a drugstore in Cary called Carolina Pharmacy, and Lacey Gilbert ran it for him. A few years later, he sold it to Kenneth Franklin. After he died, we bought Franklin’s Carolina Pharmacy from his wife in 1956.

Six months later, Ralph Ashworth bought Adam’s Drugstore and renamed it Ashworth Drugs. There were 2,500 people in Cary in 1956, barely big enough for two pharmacies. Downtown was just two blocks on Chatham Street; 128 E. Chatham St. was divided into three stores: our drugstore, a laundromat and an office. Eventually we knocked out the walls and expanded into all three spaces.

There were two doctors in Cary: Dr. Bland and Dr. Yarborough. After Dr. Yarborough died in 1958, Dr. Thompson came.

The drugstore was open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. six days a week, and Sunday afternoons. Then I started alternating with Ralph Ashworth on Sundays. Jean was the counter person while I filled prescriptions.

There weren’t as many drugs in 1956. The average price of a prescription was $1. Sometimes doctors prescribed a mixture of drugs that we made up into a customized prescription. We had penicillin and a few antibiotics. Digitalis and bed rest were prescribed for heart disease. If you had a heart attack, you spent two weeks in the hospital, then went home and rested more, which was about the worst thing you could do after a heart attack.

Cholesterol medicines came out in the late 1980s. The first ones came from sand. They thought that this sand-like product would absorb the cholesterol when it was ingested. It wasn’t used for long. Valium and birth control pills came out in the late ’60s. They revolutionized things.

We opened credit accounts for people before credit cards came into everyday use. We mailed customers a statement once a month, and continued that until we closed in 1993. Before the ’70s, not many people had insurance. State employees and teachers were first. Insurance kept getting bigger and more complicated.

Large chain stores could get their medicines cheaper than we could. Plus the insurance companies told us what co-pay we could accept, which determined how much profit we made. As an independent drugstore, sometimes we were lucky to break even.

Later on, Jean sold antiques in part of the drugstore. We had a soda fountain where we served ice cream, Coca-Cola, Nabs, candy and gum. We didn’t sell food. Then when we needed the space for the antiques, we took out the old fountain. We sold cosmetics and toys.

We were the only store between Raleigh and Apex that sold Whitman’s candy, so Valentine’s Day and Christmas were big candy sales holidays. We would wrap them with fancy paper and a ribbon. We ran Mitchell’s Drugstore until July 1, 1993, when we sold it and retired.

Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” first published in August 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.

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