Down on the Corner: The Neighborhood Pharmacy

The town pharmacy once served as a gathering place for communities, where patrons could grab a malted milkshake, the latest comic book or any number of household essentials.

Photo courtesy of Photoquest/Getty Images

In this age of CVS and Walgreens, it’s hard to imagine the corner drugstore as the place to hang out with friends, but throughout much of the 20th century, local establishments like the Branchville Pharmacy (pictured in 1950) served as the center of their communities.

During Prohibition, drugstore lunch counters were the place to grab a fountain drink or enjoy an ice cream cone—especially because few households had modern refrigerators to store cold or frozen treats. The term “soda jerk” was coined in this era, named for the deft counter workers who would jerk the soda spigots and whip up anything from sundaes and ice cream floats to banana splits, malted milk shakes and ice cream sodas. (Maybe these wizards weren’t such jerks.)

In many small towns, pharmacies were the place for one-stop shopping. Here you could find candy, stationary, toiletries, cigars, newspapers and, of course, prescription medications—most compounded to order by a skilled pharmacist. For youngsters, the corner drugstore was a place where bikes could be left outside, unlocked, while they stocked up on the latest 10-cent comic books.

Remarkably, some of these venerable institutions survive, including Branchville Pharmacy, which opened nearly 100 years ago and continues to operate as the Family Drug Shops.

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