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James R. Stout

Herman's Hermits, Balsa Wood Airplanes, a Soda Fountain, and Dugan's Drugs

            There was a family owned drugstore two blocks away from the house we lived in when I was 11-13. It was called “Dugan’s Drugs”. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a part of a vanishing breed. When I think back to those years and that store, I realize that it had an important part of my young life. The first LP record that I ever bought I bought at that store. It was “The Best of Herman’s Hermits”. It cost me $3 and was well worth it. I still have that album. Not a replacement of it, but that exact album. Perhaps the best part of Dugan’s Drugs was their old-fashioned soda fountain. They sold ice cream, malts and shakes, Coke floats, and assorted other treats. Sometimes my parents would send me down to get everyone a malt at Dugan’s. They had cardboard carriers that would hold all of them for the quick walk back home.

            The first time I ever tasted a new candy called “Sweet Tarts” was after buying a roll at Dugan’s. One of the things that I used to like to do was go to the store and watch the pneumatic tube flash by on the ceiling. You turned in your prescription at the front of the store and it was sent back to the druggist. He would then send the medicine back to the front when it was ready. I would go in there with my mother and while we waited for the prescription to be ready, I would look around the store. There was a rack of comic books, an aisle with socks and gloves and the like, and an aisle with clock radios, portable record players, and other small household appliances such as toasters and can openers. And, there was a rack of balsa wood airplanes. Those airplanes provided me with hours of fun when I was a kid. The small gliders cost a whopping 5 cents. A larger glider was a dime. They had several other models and some of them included a propeller that was driven by a rubber band. You had to put them together, but they were easy to assemble. I could always scrounge up a nickel or a dime to buy one of those planes. The propeller ones were a little more. Perhaps a quarter.

            I remember one day I was looking at some of the comic books and a girl from my class came into the store. She said hello and I thought it was the sweetest sound in the world. Her name was Penny. I rode the school bus with Penny throughout junior and senior high school. I have no idea what became of her after we graduated. Sometime in 1969 Dugan’s sold his store to a big named chain. The store was remodeled, and the soda fountain removed. Within a couple of years, they closed the store in lieu of a new store down the street. I didn’t miss Dugan’s until I got older. But I think what I miss about that store is all of the things that went away with it. Most of us buy our prescriptions at big chains now. Heck, we can get them via mail, at the grocery store, at department stores etc. I’m sure that there are soda fountains somewhere still, but I haven’t a clue where one might be and it likely is owned and operated by someone who was not even born when soda fountains were popular. LP’s are coming back, but even so they cost a lot more today. I have a couple of record players, but they are cheap compared to the great stereo systems that I once owned. I could buy an expensive component system today if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to do so. The only place that I know of with pneumatic systems is my bank. But I don’t really go there very often. I don’t have to in today’s world. But that’s another story. Perhaps the biggest thing I miss from Dugan’s and those days was knowing the pharmacist and owner of the store personally. The government laws and rules that have come into place in the last 50 years have made it very difficult to start and run a business. It seems that it takes a board of directors, a CEO, and a whole bunch of managers, lawyers, and specialist to run a company today. The closest thing that I know of to that old way of doing business is the barber that I go to. Actually, even that has changed in the past few years. I started going to him about 12 years ago after I helped him with a claim on his car. He retired about 5 years ago, but he had a couple of partners who have continued to run the shop. He passed away from cancer about two years ago. But I can still go to that shop, a small shop with three chairs, I know the barbers by name, and they know how I like my hair cut. They only take cash and that’s OK by me. I’m sure it keeps the overhead down. I tried one of those sport barber shop chains when I first moved up to the country. They had one in Huntsville. Still do, I suppose. But it was so impersonal. All of the “barbers” are in their 20’s and they’ve got a completely different idea on what a haircut is than I do. And what’s with this getting a massage with your haircut?

            Well, as time continues its march onward, I think of places like Dugan’s Drugs and remember a time when things weren’t as complicated and convoluted as they are today. Maybe I’m just getting old. The fact is there are much worse things than getting old. To anyone young reading this you’ll understand someday.

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