Antique wares sold from long-closed drugstore

CISCO, Texas (AP) — When the price of coffee at Dean Rexall Drug doubled, it hit like a bolt from the blue. Literally.

D.D. Lowe has a chunk of masonry mounted on a board with an inscribed plaque attached. It reads, “This is the brick that was knocked from the top corner of the Dean Drug Building by lightning when the price of a cup of coffee went from 5 cents to 10 cents in January 1974.”

The plaque goes on to note that when a cup of Joe later doubled again, to 20 cents, everyone held their breath hoping nothing worse was coming. It just goes to show, you don’t mess with somebody before they get their coffee, especially the Almighty.

If you strain, this weekend you might have seen the spot where the brick was blasted away. Although the store closed in 1999, you would have been able to see decades’ worth of patent medicines, old cameras and an X-ray machine straight out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab.

After nearly a century in business, the store locally known as Dean Drug has been selling it all in a sale this weekend at the store on the corner of West Seventh Street and Conrad Hilton Boulevard in Cisco.

The store began in 1909 when Lowe’s great-grandfather Thomas J. Dean bought out Floyd Jones’ partner, changing the name of the store to Dean and Jones Drug. A few years later, Dean became sole owner after Jones opened a new store in Moran.

The three-story building featured the drugstore on the bottom floor, with dentist and doctor offices above it. After seeing their patients, the doctors would call down their prescriptions to the pharmacist through a brass tube.

Dean and his wife, who had the misfortune to be named Ralph, welcomed Ernest Lennon into the family when he married their daughter Elizabeth in 1930. He joined the store as a full-time employee and part-owner and eventually the couple had a daughter, as well. Betty Dean Lennon was Lowe’s mother.

Lloyd McGrew was introduced to Betty by her then-boyfriend at what was then called Ranger Junior College. Eventually, they both matriculated to the University of Texas’ College of Pharmacy and married. In 1971, they took over the store.

McGrew ran Dean Drug until the family closed it. He died last year; his wife preceded him in 2008.

Joe Pete Forcher is handling the estate sale — it’s taken him and his partners two months to catalog, clean and arrange the items. Through it all, it’s been apparent to him just how much of an influence the drugstore had on the community during the 20th century.

“Evidently, the McGrews were really good to the people in this town,” Forcher told the Abilene Reporter-News (http://bit.ly/185Efkm). “We’ve had people come in here saying, ‘Oh I worked here in the summer of 1956, we all loved them and we want to buy something from here so we can remember them.’”

That respect shown to her parents is what convinced Lowe to be a pharmacist and carry on the family tradition.

“At first, I decided I wouldn’t because everybody kept asking, ‘Are you going to be the fourth generation?’ I didn’t want to be told what I was going to do,” she recalled. “But I had worked there since I was about 9 or 10 and liked how the people who came in respected my family and respected their opinions about things.”

Lowe graduated in 1988 from the same pharmacy school her parents did and now works at a drugstore in Kennedale. After she entered the field, it opened up new world of conversation between her and her parents.

Unfortunately, not so much for her sister Mary, who went on to become an image consultant.

“Both of my parents and I would talk about all kinds of disease states and how to treat them,” she said, laughing. “My sister would look at us and say, ‘Really? We are trying to eat, there’s food on the table!’”

By the time her father was pharmacist, the floors above the store were mostly used for storage. Her grandfather used to buy the inventories of old drugstores in the 1940s, acquiring medicines for perhaps a quarter of what they would cost otherwise.

“Back in the ’40s, they didn’t put expiration dates on medicine,” she said. “That’s probably how we got so much. We have some things that are older than what we believe the drugstore would have been, prior to 1900.”

It was like a museum upstairs. But among the relics, one proved to be a little unnerving as she got older — a quart-size bottle of liquid labeled “Heroin.”

“Heroin became illegal in 1924, so it was there prior to that,” Lowe said. “I guess they gave you three years to use it up. And when they didn’t use it up, they just forgot about it.”

It sat forgotten in the back of the store’s 4,000-pound safe, until one day she noticed it and realized that something would need to be done about it someday. But unfortunately, her father accidentally jammed the safe shut in 1984 while trying to close it.

“It wasn’t a matter of finding a locksmith to get it opened, it was a matter of getting it unjammed,” she recalled. “Well, then we got it unjammed, but in beating on it to get it unjammed, the combination was reactivated.”

Once it was opened, she probably could have destroyed the drug herself but figured it was better to call the experts.

“I thought I better do the legal route, so I called the DEA, who called the Cisco police, and then we arranged to have it destroyed,” she said.

But that’s not the only thing to raise eyebrows in the store. Among the hundreds of containers for “man or beast” sit at least 12 bottles of Dead-Line, guaranteed to protect men and women from “the horrors” of gleet caused by gonorrhea.

“They might have had some astringent ability to them, like alcohol, but they didn’t have antibiotics until really the ’40s, before they came out with penicillin,” Lowe said. “So … yeah.”

Didn’t they ever think to have a garage sale at one time? Apparently not.

“My dad always said, ‘You girls get to handle this one when I’m gone,’” Lowe said with a laugh. “Dadgum if he wasn’t right.”

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Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, http://www.reporternews.com

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