Bridgeville Pharmacy closing after 68 years in downtown
By Lynn R. Parks
For the first time in more than 100 years, Bridgeville will not have a downtown drug store. Bridgeville Pharmacy, which started over 60 years ago as Waller’s Pharmacy, is closing on Saturday.
“I am sad to see it close,” said Beatrice Short, Bridgeville, who has shopped at the store since moving to town 55 years ago. “But as long as we can, we will follow [pharmacist Bill Smith]. I have been very satisfied with his service.”
Smith, who has owned the store for 18 years and who fills about 800 prescriptions a week, will be a pharmacist for the new Happy Harry’s drug store opening next week east of town on US 404.
Happy Harry’s has also bought the prescription drug inventory at the Bridgeville Pharmacy and has offered jobs to most of the employees.
Smith, 60, said that the decision to close his store was based purely on business. “This is a decision that I made with my head, not my heart,” he said. “I like my store. I like where I work. But this makes sense for me at my stage in life.”
He added that running an independent drug store is becoming very time-consuming.
“With insurance and all the paperwork, it is more than one person can keep track of,” said Smith, who lives in Federalsburg, Md. “Independent pharmacies are a dying group.”
His average work week is 50 hours, he said; last Sunday, while the store was closed, he put in five hours catching up on administrative duties. At Happy Harry’s, he will work from 30 to 35 hours a week.
“My customers aren’t all happy with me,” he said. “But they understand why I am doing it.”
“Bill Smith has been a godsend to the people of Bridgeville,” said Joe Conaway, president of the Bridgeville Town Commission. “We are sad to see him go, but delighted that he is not going all that far.”
Conaway said that the town’s biggest concern is that the pharmacy’s closing will leave an empty store in Bridgeville’s downtown. Smith, who owns the building in which the pharmacy is located, said that he has not yet decided whether to sell it or to lease it.
“With the volume of traffic downtown and the size and condition of the building, I don’t think it will be empty too long,” Conaway said. He added that an antique shop would fit in well, adding to Bridgeville’s growing attractiveness to antique buffs, as would a specialty shop or a small company needing office space.
Meanwhile, Smith is working on reducing the store’s inventory. With the purchase of one item, customers can buy a similar item for 25 cents.
Smith is donating the quarters to Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, for research on ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His son, Gray, who lived in Baltimore, died in June 2001 from the disease.
The store’s history
Waller’s Pharmacy was opened in 1934 by Irvin “Doc” Waller, who came to Bridgeville from Salisbury, Md. His joined a long line of Market Street pharmacies that stretched back at least to the late 1800s, according to Howard Hardesty, Bridgeville native and member of the town’s historical society. Hardesty said that Elliott’s drug store was located near where the Rapa scrapple plant is now, on the west end of Market. Weaver’s was at the other end of Market Street, in what is now a vacant building and most recently was a hair salon. William Cannon also operated a drug store in downtown.
Waller opened his store on the east end of Market, between what were then Lynch’s 5 and 10 cent store and Scott’s Furniture. His original storefront is now part of Family Ministries. He built the current Bridgeville Pharmacy building in the late 1950s, shortly before he died in 1959 of leukemia.
Jean McDowell Fleetwood, a Bridgeville native who started working at Waller’s before graduating from Bridgeville High School in 1953, remembers that the original store had a soda fountain in it. She also remembers that Waller was “a wonderful person to work for.”
She added, “He was good to the people of Bridgeville. I used to deliver medicine. He had an old station wagon and he would send me around to a house with the medicine. If the people didn’t have money to pay, that was no problem. They paid when they got the money.”
“We have had two good pharmacists in Bridgeville,” said Earl “Dugan” Willey, 90, who served on the Bridgeville commission for 28 years. “Doc Waller was a great man, and Bill Smith is the same way. They are two great people.”
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