Remember When: Alva Marr, Part 1

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This is from the I Remember When Series.
This article was written by Alva Marr, owner of the Elk City Drug Store shared by his family.


PART I

Harmon Block taken in 1911

Christmas was always a special time of year at the Marr Drug Store.  The girls always decorated the big windows with lights and snow.  For many years it was tradition to put up a full size tree in the middle of the intersection with many lights.  It was always a beautiful sight on winter evenings before Christmas that added to the magic and intrigue of this time of year.  These bring fond memories to most of us.

For the Christmas season, we always stocked special items.  Mostly small things, as toy cars for boys; small dolls for girls; billfolds and key chains for men; jewelry and other small items for women.  Storybooks, Bibles and candy were also popular gifts with all ages. Christmas gifts were special in those years since families did not have a lot of money to spend.  Most families purchased items that were pratical along with a few toys and candy.

A partner, the late Paul Adamson of Longton, and myself, purchased the Elk City Drug Company on July 20, 1930, just 39 years to the day before man walked on the moon.  We bought it from Dr. Nicholson’s son, who before that had purchased it from Dr. J. T. Blank’s widow, Louise and son, Merrill Blank, after Dr. Blank was killed in an accident out on call.  Mrs. Blank and Merrill thought they wanted to get out of the business.  They moved to Texas but after a bad storm down there came right back and purchased the Altamont Drug Store.

Today, part of the white lettered sign from Dr. Blank’s days, above the metal awning, can still be read after 70 years.  However, weather has made the rest of the sign illegible.

Just a part of the history, Uncle Billy Wright, before that had sold drugs and a little liquor for medical purposes.  Harmon’s had built the building  and it was at one time known as the Harmon Building. For some years around 1900 there were two drug stores in Elk City.  I have been told there has been a drug store here since 1881.

The first few weeks when we took over, Richard Walters and I camped out in the river bottom.  On Augsust 19, 1930, it rained like the dickens.  As we came into town, a lot of men were out front of the drug store wondering if we had been harmed.

Later I rented the upstairs front bedroom of the Brick House on Silk Stocking Avenue, from Erma Bruce’s mother, Louise Smith, so that Helen could spend time with me here before we moved.

On Oct. 2, 1932 we moved into the big house where we live now.  Nine Davidson moved our furniture with wagon and horses.
We bought the house from the Henry Cox heirs.  Chandler, who had the bank here, built the house in 1880 and sold it when he went to the First National of Wichita.

The house had three wood stoves and one big flue in the middle.  There were five entrance doors.  Mattie Davis, daughter of Dr. Davis was born here and later became Worthy Matron of Kansas Eastern Star.

Joanne and Marilyn were the only two little girls we had when we moved.  Helen, Joyce, Carolyn, Sara, and Alma came along later.  The family always liked to help in the store.  When Joanne broke the first glass in the drug store, she cried.

The first girl I hired did not even know how to dust.  She was the only daughter of the Christian Minister who lived in the old Hotel.
Full time employees through the years were:  Richard Walters, Hortense Robertson, Richard Dixon, Dale Beck, Bobby Jones Simmons, Loraine Eversole, Carol Rankin, Willis Parks, Gladys Davis, Agnes McKenzie, Roger Elmore, May Barnes, Willard Bright and others.

Of these employees, those who still live in and remember Elk City, I am sure, have many fond memories.  Richard Walters went back to Longton, later moved to El Dorado and passed away out there.  Cliff Pendarvis, who was a registered pharmacist, later moved to Arkansas, Paul Adamson ran the Longton Drug, later moved to Lahunta, Colo. and passed away out there.  Richard Dixon went to a drug store in Burlingame, Dale Heck went to Wichita.  A fellow was having trouble with a soda fountain, Dale said, “I can fix that”.  He did and went to work for him.  Later, he went to California and managed a drug store out there.

PART II

We carried many patent medicines for people and livestock. The children enjoyed the small book and rhymes that accompanied many of the medicines such as Castoria for babies that read “Castoria Dick, or Little Dick Green, Finest baby you’ve ever seen”

The veterinary products were for ailments of chickens, horses, cattle, sheep and other animals.

Running the store took a lot of time and hard work. Even bookkeeping was a chore. Since there were no adding machines, handwritten accounts of business transaction were kept on a sales pad. Close watch also had to be kept on the store’s merchandise. If the store was running low on any merchandise we would have to make a trip to get it if the salesman and delivery didn’t come. The ladies would then have to tend the store while I was gone.

To begin with, our girls were assigned little odd jobs such as sweeping out the store and dusting the many little items on the counters and on the shelves. Then they graduated to helping the customer by weighing things for me and dividing them for some things come in volume. The girls liked the ice cream area and making sodas for that is where most of the young folks hung out.

Almost everyone wanted “just a little more” syrup in the soft drinks, or “just a bit more chocolate in the milkshake.” Put a little more on” they’d (customers) say and I’d say “fill it to the line”.

But the customers were the worst with ice cream cones. They’d really pour it on.

We sold a lot of five and ten cent drinks. After a good day, I would always give the girls extra money.

Our store had the big metal awning out front that made a very popular place for customers and others to meet and stop and rest and of course visit. Whether it was just to trade or to sit and pass the time, the store provided a good place to go.

I had to get up at night a lot to fill prescriptions. The phone was an important part of our business in the store and at home.

We didn’t then have telephones all over the house like people do now. Our phone was in the living room down stairs White’s put in a loud bell on our phone so we could hear it upstairs.

To stock, care for and sell so many different types of commodities necessitated a great deal of work. You worked from sun to sun. Anytime the sun caught you in bed, you were sleeping too late. The store opened anywhere from six to seven-thirty in the morning, evening, and on many Sundays. Sweeping out the store and tidying up were done before we left in the evening but there was always more in the morning before the customers began to arrive.

Usually there was enough help in the store that the girls could take turns eating lunch. The back part of the store served as a kitchen if there was not enough time to go home to eat and return in an hour.

Afternoons would be the busiest at the store. Since chores were over and the noon meal was over, housewives would come to the store for various items. Closing hours were indefinite. Sometimes the store stayed open until all the customers stopped coming, but generally seven or eight was closing time. Many times the girls would have to come back to the store after supper to work when there was a band concert or Saturday Picture Show, and we would be there until very late.

Not many customers would arrive too early in the morning except on Sunday. Everybody wanted the Kansas City Star, a lot of times we would get it read before we would go someplace, but some would want something at the store and one of us would open up and get it for them.

The Santa Fe had four trains a day that stopped at Elk City. The Kansas City Star came in on the train, for years. I went to Wichita to buy Sundries. The supplies would come by freight and Ras Rowe carried our freight from the station and delivered it.

Later when the station closed and trains stopped coming, we went to Fredonia or Independence to pick up freight.

The drug store was the one stop. There was much regular business from that. Hazel Caufman taught school in Winfield and rode the bus regularly back and forth.