History of Todd Pharmacy

Article by John Keene from the June 19-25, 2011, issue of the White Lake Beacon. Reprinted with permission.

Three days in late August of 1959 were the beginning of over 51 years service from Todd Pharmacy, the iconic downtown Montague business.

During a half century of operations the store served as a gathering point for friends and families, a hub for city business, employed countless people including a Miss America, and developed into a cornerstone of the community.

In the Beginning

Bob and Jim ToddJim and Bob Todd, two brothers from Dalton, who studied at Ferris State University to become pharmacists, opened their drug store in downtown Montague as the city's population boomed from an iflux of jobs created by companies like DuPont and Hooker Chemical.

Tim Todd, Bob's son who is a teacher at Montague High School, said the store was more than just a pharmacy and it was modeled after Jim's former employer, Pitkin Drug in Whitehall, which had a soda fountain at the time.

"If you were a drug store, you had a soda fountain," he recalled.

Both Jim and Bob's families worked in the store and their children said they even grew up in the store.

"I probably had more meals in the store the first five years than at home," said Tim. "But I couldn't imagine growing up any other way."

"I think back to how lucky we were," said Dan Todd, Jim's son, about growing up with Todd Pharmacy. "It was a great experience."

Jim's daughter, Becky Todd, said she remembered the ladies who worked the morning shifts at the soda fountain before the high school girls took over once school let out for the day.

"I remember they were such sticklers and hard working," said Becky, who recalled how clean they kept the serving area. "They trained us well, and it was a good example for us."

Barbara Todd, Jim's wife, remembered making pies for the soda fountain in the early days of the store.

Both the Todds made sure their pharmacy was available to customers by keeping long hours, and they tended by themselves during the first few years of business.

They were open from 8:30 am to 10 pm, and even opened on Sunday from 8:30 am to 1 pm and then returned for a 7 to 10 pm shift.

"They tried to have a pharmacy open at all times. Between Lipka's and Todd's there was one always open every day." said Tim.

Dan remembered the commitment his father and uncle's drug store had to the community.

While the girls worked the soda fountain, he remembers making deliveries for the store. There were even times when Jim or Bob would open the store after hours to get people the medicine they needed.

Their community involvement extended beyond Todd Pharmacy though.

Both served on the Montague City Council for 20 years and Jim was an active musician in the area and helped conduct Showboat, a Montague festival featuring the performing arts.

Tim said he would see his uncle Jim writing prescriptions and music at the same time while preparing for Showboat.

"I have no idea how he could do that," said a still amazed Tim. "He would be humming a tune, writing music, and finishing a prescription."

Music was a passion for Jim, and he worked hard arranging the music for Showboat throughout the 60s and early 70s, and organizing his band Starlight Brass.

"He loved [music]." said Jim's wife.

Bob's political involvement often came to work with him, as both Dan and Tim recalled lots of city business being done at the store.

"Both brothers were very civic minded," said Tim.

Of the more memorable times for Todd Pharmacy was the Fall of 1960 when Nancy Fleming, who worked at the store, became 1961's Miss America.

The celebration was huge, said Becky, downtown was alive with joyful people. Fleming's win became a source of pride for Todd Pharmacy and her victory was proudly displayed throughout the store.

Tim remembered how funny it was when the women at the soda fountain would sometimes take turns telling customers they were Nancy while she was out on a Miss America tour.

Sea of Change

Big changes would arrive for Todd Pharmacy in the 80s.

The first came when the Todd brothers purchased the variety store next door and expanded their business in the summer of 1983.

They doubled the card and gift store, and added porcelain gifts like Hummels. Eventually the store added some basic jewelry, but within two years the expanded store was filled and still thriving.

For close to a quarter-century prescriptions files were all catalogued by hand at Todd Pharmacy. Becky remembered working long hours updating all the files and arranging them by prescription number.

But, in November 1986, Todd Pharmacy got their first computer and began updating their prescription files—a difficult process for the first time computer users.

That change, however, was overshadowed by the sudden death of Jim that same November weekend. He suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 59.

The challenge of losing a brother and instituting a new system run by computers was a lot to handle for Bob, recalled his son Tim. Bob's hours at the store also increased significantly with the passing of Jim.

As the 80s rolled into the 90s, Todd Pharmacy continued its role as a downtown Montague cornerstone, but more changes would be in order for the family owned and operated business.

Bob was diagnosed with prostate cancer during the mid-90s, but was able to battle the illness into remission. However, the cancer returned shortly thereafter including spreading into his lymph nodes.

In September of 1999 during a family dinner, Bob broke the news that it might be time to sell the store.

"His greatest gift to me was that he was the one to decide to sell the store," explained Tim, who said he would have had a difficult time deciding what to do if the store would have remained in the family after his father passed. "By him actually saying [he wanted to sell] was huge."

Bob chose to sell the business and the store to HomeTown Pharmacy and the business was transferred on December 31, 1999. Tim joked that they chose that day so they could "beat the Y2K fears."

Six months later, July 3, 2000, Bob passed away at the age of 66.

"As soon as the transfer happened, my dad never returned [to Todd Pharmacy]," said Tim.

A New Era

With HomeTown Pharmacy operating Todd Pharmacy, they continued with the soda fountain for one more year before discontinuing that portion of the operation.

The food service wasn't making money for HomeTown and with the business transfer they lost many grandfather rights allotted to the Todd family.

HomeTown would have had to make a significant investment in the soda fountain for it to continue to operate and it didn't make financial sense for them.

After more than 40 years of service, on February 23, 2001, Todd Pharmacy discontinued the majority of its food service.

HomeTown Pharmacy pressed on with Todd Pharmacy until June 8 of this year [2011], when it, acording to HomeTown Pharmacy officials, became financially unsustainable.

There was hope in recent months that a new location could be found for the business, but a location that was available and suitable to HomeTown Pharmacy's needs was never able to come to fruition.

Becky said the news of Todd Pharmacy closing was sad, but it hadn't been the same for years.

"It isn't the same Todd Pharmacy as before," she said. "But now we have to admit it's really gone."

For Dan the closing brought back memories of growing up around Todd Pharmacy and his friends.

Closing Day"I had a lot of fun working there with friends," he said, which included so many stories and memories he won't soon forget. "I learned how to talk to people and gained confidence."

A half-century after that three-day grand opening, Todd Pharmacy closed its doors, but the memories built there will live through the Todd family and the White Lake community.

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