UNITED STATES—An offer from another chain store came for the drug store, and my parents welcomed it. Capitulating to one of the chains was still not the most desirable ending to 44 years of service. Then a young eager pharmacist, interested in taking over the pharmacy, reappeared. He would preserve the Johnson name, its independence and assure continuity.
It seemed that the story had at last the ending that it deserved. The young pharmacist asked for extra time to get his ducks in a row. Financing, alas, did not come through for the young pharmacist, so the deal moved forward with another drug chain. They still chiseled $30,000 off the inventory price, discounting all the drugs and medicines that expired within 90 days of the purchase.
On July 14, 2006 came this letter off my father’s Underwood typewriter:
“Dear Friends and Customers of Johnson Drug Co., We would like to visit with you personally, but this letter will have to suffice. Since October 1, 1962, almost 44 years ago, Ethlyn and I (and our employees) have had the privilege and pleasure to know and serve you.
We announce our retirement from Johnson Drug Co., and the merge of the pharmacy to Rite Aid Pharmacy. Our last day to be open for business will be Friday, July 21, 2006, with closing as usual at 5:30 PM… Rite Aid will continue the same friendly, personal service that you have enjoyed with Johnson Drug Co. We ask your patience during this initial change period.
Thank you for your past loyal patronage and appreciated friendship.”
And so it was that one of the hearts of Watsonville stopped beating, along with the old Post Office and Ford’s lunch counter, where people could meet and feel the spark of human contact. No more would a stammering voice answer the phone, “Hu-hullo, Johnson Drug.” What the Mendersheitz Bros. started in 1902 now bit the dust. The relief pharamacist Bonnie, it angel, went to work at the local hospital and Rosalinda was promised her same job at the chain store. It wasn’t to her liking, or not enough to her liking to be happy at the chain store. Within months she quit to raise her children full time.
The store, now gone, had raised me. I started sweeping its sidewalks; by high school I was helping make radio commercials for it.
For me one odd memory stands out. Dad had hired an outsider to oversee one of the bonanza sales intended to shore up business. The fact is the old big drug store on the corner was never a cash cow. A young man came to handle the advertising layout and set up the merchandise and posters. He wore the wide tie and wide-collared shirts of the 70s, had facial hair and an earnest gaze. One of the most successful features was a box of gift-wrapped mystery boxes, and you had the chance of winning a watch for five dollars. There was something young and eager about this guy as opposed to over-the-hill and sleazy as we saw in much of the salesman class.
He wanted to give me a chance to win the watch. He was clever; he knew exactly the sound the watch made when you shook the box. He said, ‘try that one.’ I was a real stinker, as a kid. I knew that if I got that watch, it would be of poor quality and tacky, I had seen the watches. And for the life of me I couldn’t see giving a performance full of excitement on reaching the watch. I just couldn’t help it. So I went on my own and chose a a random gift-papered box.
I didn’t know what was in it, couldn’t know. It was grand beyond all expectation and contained the greatest thing ever. I opened it up and it wasn’t a watch or anything close to it. The salesman had picked out the one with the watch; I went for the unknown.
Anyhow, retirement began for my father. He got a passport, but never used it. He still went for coffee at Zarco’s and every day went to the post office to check their box. Mom and Dad are still waiting for all the checks top dribble in from the insurance companies.