Curtis brothers ran drug store for more than 40 years.
Editor’s Note: Roy’s Pharmacy in Tonasket, in business under that name since 1955, shut its doors without warning last Tuesday, selling their customer list to RiteAid in Omak.
While the owners had little to say on the record, Mary Lou Kriner, president of the Tonasket Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Tonasket City Council said, “This will have a huge impact on the community. All the scripts will go to RiteAid, a lot of people will go that direction. This will really affect the elderly in our community, to have to go all that way will be hard on them. Nobody knows why it closed.”
The pharmacy was known as Jerry’s Pharmacy when the late Roy Curtis bought it in 1955, later joined by his brother Lloyd. I sat down last Sunday and discussed some of the history with Lloyd. G.A.D.
Both Roy and Lloyd graduated from Oroville High School, Roy going into the U.S. Navy and Lloyd going to Washington State College to Pharmacy School. Upon Roy’s return he went into Pharmacy School at WSC as well. Lloyd went into the U.S. Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant during the Korean War and Roy put his education to work at Jerry’s Pharmacy in Tonasket.
“Jerry Funk who had Jerry’s Pharmacy wanted to sell to Roy. Roy was a little reluctant because while he recognized the pharmacy part he didn’t think he had the knowledge to run a business. However, it worked out wonderful,” said Curtis.
“When I got out of the Air Force I went to work for Roy in 1956, then I went to Spokane and got married. In 1958 I went into partnership with Roy,” he said.
The two worked at the pharmacy every day, with both keeping track of their hours and filling in for each other when they needed time off.
“I’d have a friend come in and I could just say ‘See you Roy, back in two days.’ It was a very easy partnership. We were brothers, best friends and partners. You couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Curtis, adding that while their parents lived in the family home in Oroville where they were both born, he and his brother had homes in Tonasket.
Curtis said the first thing they would do on cold mornings would be to stoke the fire in the woodstove in the basement.
“It would really heat the place up and when one of us started to feel cold we’d just go downstairs and rebuild the fire,” he said, adding another thing that was done in the morning was to go outside and sweep the sidewalk.
“In those days everyone went out and swept their sidewalk first thing in the morning,” said Curtis.
“We had a drug store like the old-fashioned drug store, we sold school supplies, cosmetics, games, gifts and health aids, besides the prescription counter,” he said.
Curtis says that they did not fill as many prescriptions as pharmacies do now, that third-party payments from insurance companies was not as prevalent back then.
“We filled for welfare, L&I and a few with insurance coverage, that became a big thing later on,” he said. “Years ago we concocted a number of the prescriptions at the store, namely creams or ointments. I did do a powder paper once, that’s an old way of doing them. We did do some capsules as well.”
Perhaps one of the biggest attractions and a part of many pharmacies in the old days, was the soda fountain.
“We made wonderful milkshakes, like the way we liked them, very thick,” Curtis said. “We had the fountain to draw in people, but later it became more of a burden. It took up too much space and never really made any money for us,” he said. “After we closed the fountain we’d still have people coming down from Canada asking where it had gone.”
Tonasket Drug, which was operated by Dick and Norma Geil, where Tonasket Interiors is located now, also had a fountain, according to Curtis. That drug store was in business during the whole time that the brothers ran Roy’s.
“We were with Rexall to start with and they pretty much went out of business. They had a lot of one cent sales,” said Curtis, who adds that later the pharmacy was associated with McKesson.
The brothers were community minded, going to Spokane and Seattle to buy gifts for Christmas late each summer from Rexall and McKesson, the two suppliers the pharmacy was associated with.
The two enjoyed dressing up as Santa at Christmas time and delivering gifts all over town to homes that didn’t have as much as others.
“One of the good things we did for the community was playing Santa all those years. We’d close the store and from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. we would deliver gifts to people we didn’t know,” Curtis said.
The brothers sold the pharmacy to the present owners in 1993 when Roy turned 65. Lloyd continued to work there for nearly three years, retiring on Dec. 23, 1995.
“I wanted Christmas eve off for the first time in 40 years and I was just six months from being 65,” he said.
Curtis said that he and his brother really enjoyed their store and their customers.
“We didn’t get rich, but we had a good life and we were able to support two families from that one store. Neither one of us would have wanted to do anything else different in life. People were good to us. Back then you could visit with your customer, today you can’t always get to do that,” he said.
Curtis said he has talked with one of the owners and that he has agreed to let the Borderlands Historical Society look through some of the old items in the basement that were there from back in the time the brothers ran it.
“I know there is a big old cash register down there about two feet wide that is mine,” said Curtis holding out his hands like someone telling a fish story. “It weighs a ton. I took Roy’s grandson down there and he was a wrestler and weight lifter. He said there’s no way he could carry it out.”