Early 1960s Employee Shares Fond Memories of Wilson Pharmacy

Eddie Baldwin reminisced about his employment at Wilson Pharmacy at 273 W. Market Street in the late 1950s and early '60s. He lived on W. Main Street within a short walking distance to the store. He previously worked at nearby (Hubert C.) Dyer's Venetian Blind Laundry.

The drugstore, initially identified as Prator-Wilson Pharmacy, was established in July 1936 by Lee Prator and Guy Wilson. After about two years, Mr. Prator decided to relocate to Abingdon, Virginia and open a pharmacy there. The split proved to be very profitable for both men. The business would retain the same name until about 1951 when “Prator” was dropped, becoming “Wilson Pharmacy.”

“The business,” said Eddie, “was a combination soda fountain and drugstore. Food service included hamburgers, Campbell's soup (especially chicken noodle) that was served in little green bowls, Will Cope hot tamales, ice cream, milk shakes, soft drinks (both fountain and bottles that were kept in a large cooler behind the counter), hot chili with crackers, a variety of chips and an assortment of desserts that included (Orville) Seaver's Pies that sold for a dime.”

1940s: Guy Wilson at Door of His Pharmacy, Next to His Car Parked on W. Watauga Avenue

Older folks may recall that Will Cope made scrumptious hot tamales which were wrapped in corn husks and tied off on each end with string. He operated out of C.C. (Edward W. Carson) Grocery at 212 W. Chilhowie. He delivered his product to Guy's Pharmacy and other downtown establishments, such as John's (Buda) Sandwich Shop. 

Guy had a relief pharmacist by the name of Bill Gregg, who worked there and operated the drugstore in Guy's absence. The pharmacy initially opened at 7:00 a.m. and closed at 10:00 p.m., but later was changed to 8:00 p.m. and then to 6:00 p.m. Unlike most downtown stores, Guy's Pharmacy stayed open Wednesday afternoons. That mid-week evening was known as “mop the floor night,” with Eddie and others performing cleanup duties after the store closed.

A large section of magazines was displayed to the left as you entered the store. The all-important comic book rack was located on the east side of the store, adjacent to a large walnut cabinet that was used to store women's cosmetics.

Comic books were often read by adults as well as children, who would, after buying something from the fountain, take it back to a table, pull a comic book from the rack and read it as they consumed their purchase. Guy was amicable enough to let customers and even employees on break read comics, provided they purchased something. When Guy saw someone reading a book without spending money, he uttered the oft-repeated words, “Okay boys, order up.” The perpetrators got the message.

Eddie worked three basic jobs at Guy's: serving customers behind the counter, delivering food and/or medicine orders on a bicycle” and general cleanup duties.

Eddie recalled this humorous story: “After receiving a prescription order, I jumped on my bicycle and headed west on Market Street to Green's Rest Home (owned by Mrs. Bertha Green at 607 Hillcrest Drive), behind the old Hillcrest Drug building. When I arrived, I parked my bike in an empty space in front of a car.

“I delivered my package and was about to leave the home when I heard a loud crash. To my dismay, my bike had fallen over and the driver of the car behind it accidentally ran over it, heavily damaging it. Since it wouldn't roll, I lifted it over my head and carried it back to the store, dreading having to tell Guy the bad news. When I did, he just smiled at me as if it was no big deal. Two days later, I had a brand new bicycle to ride. That's the kind of man Guy Wilson was.”  

Bill's (Garland) Barber Shop was in the building on the east side of the pharmacy. When Bill moved his hair cutting operation across the street to the building vacated by (W. Howard Stewart's) The Red Store, Guy bought the building, knocked out the wall between the two stores and significantly increased the floor space of his pharmacy. This acquisition allowed more tables to be added.   

A nice feature about the pharmacy was that people who urgently needed an order filled could call Guy's home and someone would come and open the store to fill the customer's order. He remembered one urgent request that occurred in the wee hours of the morning turned out to be for a pack of Kodak film.

Eddie left Wilson Pharmacy to go to work for Giant Food Market on Commerce Street in downtown Johnson City. Later, he was hired by the Johnson City Police Department, serving under Police Chief Tom Helton. Eddie requested that I give honorable mention to three long-time store workers: Shirley Shepherd, Ray Trivette and Mabel Dykes.

Thanks Eddie, for your cherished yesteryear memories.