If you drive through almost any neighborhood in St. Louis, you’ll notice something different about the brick buildings that sit on the corner of the street: they all have very large plate glass windows and doors that are catty cornered to the curb. The reason for this is that back before the age of the automobile, and right on up to the advent of the big supermarket, drugstore, and discount department store chains, practically every corner in the city had a corner market, drugstore, or tavern. Walk one block in any direction and chances are that you would stumble onto one of these establishments.
There were two corner drugstores in Lafayette Square where I grew up. Walking a block in either direction got you there. There was one on the corner of 18th and Chouteau that still had an old-fashioned soda fountain where you could get a deliciously sweet cherry Coke in a fountain glass with crushed ice. In the other direction was a Rexall that had a huge magazine rack with all of the latest comic books. The rest of the store was filled with greeting cards, candy, tobacco, and assorted knick-knacks. By the pharmacy counter sat several apothecary jars filled with mysterious concoctions. Back in those days, the pharmacists really were chemists, (as they still call them in Britain), and they formulated a lot of pills, powders, ointments, and syrups right there behind the counter. Now it just seems that all they do is count pills.
The demise of the corner drugstore in St. Louis began when the chains started to move in. There were a scattering of Walgreens, Gasen, and Glaser stores and even one called Katz, represented by a cartoon cat that resembled the tail-wagging kitchen clock. The chains started to expand and war ensued with Walgreen’s being the clear victor. Now it’s second nature for practically every high volume retail outlet to have a pharmacy tucked somewhere in the back. All the supermarkets have them; the Wal-Marts, Targets, and K-Marts have them also. Recently Walgreen’s has changed focus in several areas: they have been adding more grocery items to compete with the convenience stores, and tore down all of the old units and replaced them with cookie-cutter versions that oddly enough, are all on street corners. They have also introduced a new walk-in clinic service called “Take Care.” “Take Care” features nurse practitioners that can treat minor illnesses and injuries without you having to go to the emergency room or schedule a visit to the doctor. It’s sort of the fast food of medical care. I think that service has suffered at the big chains, but unfortunately where else are you going to go at 3 in the morning when you realize that you have run out of your medication?
However, if you look hard enough, you can still find a few of those little neighborhood drugstores scattered throughout the city:
Hesselberg Drug, on the city’s south side, started out years ago as a sort of Art Nouveau building with maroon-colored tile gracing the exterior and odd round plate glass windows in the front. It went out of business after many years and someone thought that it would make an interesting coffee shop. That folded a few years ago, and now it’s back to being a pharmacy again.
Krummenacher Pharmacy, 11020 Olive, started out in the early sixties and was known for its personalized service. It’s owner Ralph K. Krummenacher passed away a few year ago. His pharmacy was the first one in St. Louis to remove tobacco products from its shelves because of the health consequences, even though it was one of the store’s most profitable items. His son, Thomas K. is a respected ophthalmologist in the St. Louis area. I went to him a few years ago for a retina problem I was having.
Jennifer’s Pharmacy at 14 N. Central in Clayton, is one of the few that still compounds medications at the store. They specialize in natural hormone replacement therapy tailored by prescription to match your body type. They have a full line of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and food supplements. They also carry a full line of homeopathic and natural remedies, AND they have a soda fountain!
Several corner drugstores in the St. Louis area will still make deliveries to your home. They include William’s Pharmacy, 7010 Pershing, Lindenwood Pharmacy at 6903 Lansdowne, and Rinderer’s Drug, (several locations throughout the area.)
So the next time you’re standing in line at one of the chains, you might just think about visiting one of these neighborhood drugstores. You’ll surely be greeted there with a friendly smile and time to answer all of your questions. That, in and of itself, might just make you feel better already.