The Towanda Drug Store, 1923-1940 When the new Sachs building was erected after the Roadhouse fire, the rooms were occupied by the Post Office on the west end, a pool room, a grocery store run by the Fosters and later the Tylers, and a drug store next to the bank. Ratliff eventually bought the building. The Drug Store was operated by Mr. Edward E. Gabriel, a pharmacist from Chicago. He was the brother of Charles E. Gabriel, the noted hymn writer. He had a beautiful little store
with new show cases and furnishings and a soda fountain. In 1923 it became necessary for him to retire and sell his drug store because of a heart condition and doctor's orders. Lewis Michael decided he wanted to buy and operate the little place of business so we bought it from Mr. Gabriel. I didn't see how in the world I could be expected to help in the store with the responsibility of 6 children, but eventually it became necessary for me to do so. My Father, G.W. Peterson, volunteered to watch the children and I hired 2 dependable girls, Fern and May Moser, to do most of the cooking and housework, alternatively. When one wanted a day off, the other would substitute. They were equally efficient and the children loved them both. At home I did all the washing (on board) and ironing, mending, and sewing; and as the drug store was near our home, I usually knew where the children were and what they were doing when I was at the store. I also kept the telephone busy. Mr. Gabriel stayed on a week to train me and taught me everything I needed to know about the drug store. I got along beautifully. The Grand Opening was Easter week, and for the occasion the window decorations were made of hand painted tulips and leaves cut out and bunnies and eggs, etc., which I made.
Louise Cass was clerk. Also, later, Earlene Peden. The candy, tobacco, and stationery and school supply cases were beautiful bevel-edged, glass counters. There were 2 wire legged tables and 8 chairs to match with covers of green and white striped canvas, and a small set like them for little folks. There were large ceiling kerosene and gas lamps which we shined and refilled every day. The prescription counter served as a partition across the back of the room and the back of it was one huge bevel-edged, beautiful mirror which at first glance seemed to enlarge the drug store as one entered the front door. As we were not pharmacists, the doctor in town, Dr. Paul A. Humphrey, came in and filled his own prescriptions. Back of the prescription department, the walls were lined with shelves holding dozens of prescription jars of drugs, many of them leftovers from the former G.W. Howard & William Macy Drug Stores. The east wall was solid shelves and drawers, which held commercial drug remedies and assorted supplies, pills, tablets, etc. The soda fountain was on the west side of the room. In those days there was no electricity in Towanda and the fountain was hand operated, meaning that every so often we had to charge it by hand (about once a week). To do so we took the soda tank into the back room, placed it on a wooden rocker, attached it to a tank of gas, and then it had to be rocked 30 minutes continually to keep in motion, then taken back to the fountain for use. There were many porcelain 1/2 gallon and quart containers on the fountains to hold the different flavors which we mixed ourselves. We bought concentrated fruit flavors by the quart, which we mixed with simple syrup as needed. The syrup I made by bringing to a boil equal parts of sugar and
I drove the car to Bloomington and Normal every other day for provisions. Hildebrant in Normal supplied us with patent medicines and many other things. Candy, cigars, cigarettes, chewing gum, etc., fountain supplies from the wholesale grocery in Bloomington. Stationery, school supplies, and pens came from W.B. Read Wholesale Company. Ice from an ice supply house in Bloomington. One cold day in January the car was not available and I had to have some drugs for the doctor's prescriptions from Normal. I got a ride down with somebody but had no way back, so I walked against a strong, cold, northeast wind with an armload of heavy bottles, drugs, etc. I got to the Huling crossing 1-1/2 miles from Towanda and met 3 high school boys in their car going to a matinee. They saw me, turned around, picked me up, and brought me back to Towanda, for which I was forever grateful! They were Billie Peden, Swede Hedrick, and Murray Livingston, pals of my son, Bob. When I mentioned the incident 40 years later, Peden did not even remember about it--but I did! There was an ice container in the fountain which had to be kept filled, and to get ice we had to haul it in the car every day from Bloomington. It took 200 pounds to load our large ice box in the back room where we kept all the bottles of pop which we sold. The ice was loaded into the 3x8 foot ice box by a pulley fastened in the ceiling. We concocted many combinations of ice cream and fruit dishes which we specialized in; and we had many customers from other towns who drove out on hot evenings just for the drive and a nice cool soda or something from the fountain. It was a busy place. Preparing for the Towanda 4th of July Celebration took several days of planning and labor to have everything ready for the big day. Once on the
3rd of July eve, after an extra hard day's preparation, my clerk, Etta Moberly, and I scrubbed the floor after closing hours, and we had one more big job to do. It was almost midnight when we went to the store room to charge the fountain tank and both of us were exhausted. But we decided it would be better to do it that night than to wait before opening time at 6:00 next morning. We took turns rocking, each of us resting between turns and thinking it was a long 30 minutes. Finally, when the timer sounded and we were ready to disconnect the tank, we discovered to our dismay that we had forgotten to attach it to the gas tank! All 30 minutes of rocking for nothing! As tired as we both were, we just sat down and giggled and giggled and laughed until we cried! Years later whenever we recalled that night, we still thought it funny. I went up at 4:30 next morning and charged the tank before opening hour and we were ready for a tremendous day! Lewis did not like the work, so after the first year he built an oil station and lunch room over on old 66. He wanted me to go over there and fry hamburgers, and I said "No!" In 1926, the law came up that a pharmacist had to be present at all times. We could not afford a pharmacist, so we sold the store to Edward C. Biasi of Bloomington who engaged Harlan Jenkins, a pharmacist from Pontiac, to operate the store for him. I didn't want to sell the drug store, but had no choice. I continued to work for Mr. Biasi and took a leave of absence for a few weeks, until my baby Rose arrived, and later went back to work. Also in 1926, electricity was brought into Towanda so he installed lights and a new fountain. Not many years later, Harlan Jenkins bought the store from Mr. Biasi and I worked for him, part time hours, for 11 years (all told, 17 years).
When Harlan sold out and went to California, the Drug Store was changed into a restaurant and lunch room. George and Esther owned and operated that for some time; and when they sold, they went to Ottawa. And the Drug Store era was ended.
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
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