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Gilpin’s Drugstore

Village Mainstay

by Phyllis Cron Jones

I started working at Gilpin’s Pharmacy in 1955 during my freshman year of high school and worked there for 13 years. I went over right from school and worked from four o’clock until seven. I was in the band and chorus and was a cheerleader, but we did all our practicing during school time rather than after school. I also worked over the noon hour. I’d dip ice cream and work the grill. Some of the high school students ate lunch there, and there was often a long line for the grill.

When I started at the drugstore Bill had just added the pharmacy, replacing the old apothecary. The fountain was moved to the other side, with about ten stools along the counter and four tables in the back—no more booths. It now occupied the space where Roma’s living room, dining room and kitchen had been, and she made an apartment upstairs. Another change was we had to wear uniforms and hairnets. Oh, how I hated that hairnet! I’d get away without one for a while and then Bill would notice and remind me. When I graduated from high school in 1958 I started working at the drugstore full-time.

The drugstore was the hub of the town. We had our regular customers. Allen Edwards, president of the bank next door, came in every day for lunch. Teachers came in the morning, and they’d have coffee and sit and talk. They always sat at the table against the wall as you went into the kitchen, and they’d have their coffee before school. The bus drivers, Elsie Hettes, and Dave and Florence Malsom, came in for coffee or a Coke while they were waiting for school to get out. That same table where the teachers sat, Bub Beesecker, Bill Rubrecht and a bunch of them would sit and talk. Bill Rubrecht would start an argument—one was a Democrat and one a Republican—and they would get so mad! Elmer Newcomer came in every weekday at four o’clock, and there had better not be anyone sitting on his stool next to the potato chip rack. Elmer would sit on the last stool and take that five-cent bag of potato chips, and you knew to get him a large Coke. Every single weekday he had a large Coke and a five-cent bag of potato chips, and everyone knew not to sit on his stool at four o’clock. I remember one man who would come in and his fingers would walk along the counter, and when no one was looking he would take a cupcake. When we saw him come in we had to put the plate down under the counter until he left. When the city people were here in the summers it got a lot busier. At first they were always in a hurry and could be a little grumpy. Bill would say, “Give them a few days until they realize they are up here to relax.”

We baked our own pies but they were frozen pies, not homemade like in my sister Miriam’s day. We cut them into six slices and put them in a pie cabinet. We took the food orders, cooked the food, and then served it. You never wrote down an order, everything was in your head. And we had to be able to work in all of the areas. We would go on the pharmacy side and wait on the people in line at that register. We rang up prescriptions when people came in for them, and we sold medicines, cameras, and so on, and then we’d go to the jewelry and cosmetic counter when someone wanted something there. Sometimes you would excuse yourself to go and flip a burger or give someone their order when it was ready.

There was a big phone booth in the corner and sometimes it would ring, and we’d have to run over and answer it. Sometimes it was someone wanting to know if a certain person was there, or it could be an operator asking for more money because someone had talked over the limit, but by then they were long gone. Every once in a while, someone would call and ask if we had Prince Albert in a can, and we’d say, “Yes,” and they’d say, “Well, let him out!” Everybody teased the waitresses!

We washed dishes in the triple sink under the counter. You had to have a triple sink because of the regulations, and believe me, Bill Gilpin went by the law. My kids asked me one time if I would get Social Security, and I said, “Yes, I will.” You never worked “under the counter,” not with Bill Gilpin you didn’t.

We had to mark the dates on the magazines, and every morning we wrote names on newspapers and saved them for those who wanted them. We had a chair that we put them on in front of the magazine rack, and each person would come in and get their own paper.

There were deliveries every day—Coke, Pepsi, Crystal, Sunbeam, Penn Paper, Hershey’s. We didn’t have to go out and buy much, and we all helped with the ordering. We got the hamburger from Dutch’s Market, and after Allen Cross stopped delivering milk, we got our milk from Pocono Mountain Dairy. People could leave rolls of film to be picked up for processing, and they could also drop off their dry cleaning. Spotless Cleaners came every week from Scranton.

Supplies were kept in the cellar. There were three cellars, and the biggest one had shelves and that’s where the ice cream freezers were. The small cellar had a dirt floor and was more like a root cellar, and that’s where the Coke syrup and fountain supplies were kept. You didn’t tarry in there. Sometimes when we went down to the stock area the store wasn’t covered, but we never had a problem with shoplifting. In later years a stockroom was added behind the pharmacy. How much easier that was!

One time Bill sent me to an all-day seminar in Scranton on cosmetics and wigs so I could learn how to sell them better. Synthetic wigs were popular in the 1960s, and we sold quite a few. They weren’t expensive, and you could change your hairstyle. I wore them. Everybody wore them.

We always closed the drugstore during church service on Good Friday. Everybody in town closed on Good Friday. The bell would toll, and we would all go over to the church. Then, after communion, we’d all go back and get everything started again. The only other days we closed were Thanksgiving and Christmas. The day Bill and Jane were married, the drugstore was open. I had to work that day, and so did he. We hurried up so we could get home and get dressed and get to the church in time for the wedding. It was a beautiful wedding!

Every year Mom had a picnic for the gang at the drugstore and their families. She never knew what to expect—and one time Bill and Blanche Robacker came dressed as a maid and butler. We had the best time! It was a lot of fun working at the drugstore, and I have a lot of good memories. We knew everyone in and outside of town. If you wanted to know any news, you just had to stop by and ask.

Note: This is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in The Greene Hills of Home, Vol. 28, No. 4.