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Estherville Drug sold after 98 years

Family business founded by Alan Robinson’s grandfather Charles, was purchased by Hy-Vee this week.

July 14, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

This week, Alan Robinson sold Estherville Drug to Hy-Vee. Robinson said in a note to patients that he had reached out to a dozen pharmacists to purchase the pharmacy and store, and to three chains before receiving the best offer from Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee has been expanding its footprint, purchasing numerous pharmacy assets from closed Shopko stores in the region.

Alan's grandfather's history with the drugstore began over a century ago as he was employed by the drugstore before purchasing it in mid-January, 1920. In the January 20, 1920 edition of the Estherville Vindicator and Republican, Charles Robinson Purchased the Drug Store from G.H. Leffler.

Charles J. Robinson and Leffler purchased Birney Drugstore from Dr. C.E. Birney. The 1920 article said of Charles J. Robinson, "[He] is one of our popular and deserving young men who has worked his way from the bottom and it is indeed a pleasure to his many friends to welcome him to the business circles of Estherville. He has studied long and hard for this opportunity and there is no question but that he will make good. He is built of that kind of metal (sic)." Robinson and Leffler established Estherville Drug Co.

Article Photos

In 1941, the drugstore moved to its current location at the corner of Central Ave. and South 6th Street. In 1946. Charles J.'s son, Charles William (Bill) returned from the Navy (World War II) and went into business with his father.

In the early '50s, father and son took on a major remodel of the store. In the Feb. 5, 1953 edition of the Estherville Daily News, the project's vendors congratulated Estherville Drug.

Vern Smith and Otto Loeschen, painters located at 505 Central Ave., said, "Estherville Drug Co. is an asset in our community. Shopping is made more enjoyable in such pleasant surroundings."

Heideke Electric, who designed and installed the interior lighting, said, "It's like magic-the change that's come over Estherville Drug Co.! We're happy to have played a part in it. Congratulations and best wishes to Charlie and Bill."

Sander's Ice Cream sent best wishes to the store, which featured the company's ice cream exclusively. The special flavor for February, 1953 was cherry vanilla.

Valley News of Mankato was excited about the new and expanded magazine selection, which they serviced.

Sanborn's Furniture said, "When you visit the new Estherville Drug, be sure to notice the beautiful, heavy-duty rubber tile floorinstalled by our skilled, factory-trained experts."

The Cox Studio signmakers, Langmo Plumbing & Heating, Clarence Halstead, painter, Delbert Kooker, plasterer, Anderson-Schenk, builders of the "Modern Store Front," Joyce Lumber Company with building materials, concrete block from Estherville Concrete Products, lumber from Northern Lumber Company, and Fagre Construction Co., general contractors.

Winding our watches back to the 1930s, the August 3, 1937 edition of the Vindicator and Republican announced that Estherville Drug has installed an air conditioner. The summer of 1936 held records for decades as the hottest summer on record in the midsection of the United States, according to NOAA archives.

"The Estherville Drug Co. has installed a new air conditioning fan in their place of business that is a revelation in simplicity and efficiency. The fan is of the airplane propeller type and forces the air from the front and clear back to the rear where the ice cream and soft drink serving tables are located," the Vindicator and Republican article said.

The June 6, 1938 edition of the Vindicator and Republican advertised a Farm Bureau Annual Picnic for June 14. The Estherville Drug ad for that day included its slogan, "In Business for Your Health," and touted its sales of cigarettes and cigars as well as refreshing cold drinks and sodas.

May 24, 1934's edition included an ad for G.W. Robinson, Jeweler at Estherville Drug. A graduate needed a good watch, and an Elgin or Gruen Watch offered in yellow or white gold was priced from $18-$40 while diamonds were priced from $8 to $150.

The Tuesday, June 6, 1969 edition of the Vindicator and Republican stated a new fountain was installed at Estherville Drug.

In the Nov. 5, 1963 edition of the Estherville Daily News, Estherville Drug announced an open house through the weekend, with $500 in samples and prizes to give away to those who attended the open house.

"The store has expanded into two store fronts and now has more than twice the floor space of the former store and offers expanded prescription service, soda fountain, greeting cards, display, gift center and other departments," the 1963 announcement said.

Mary Clabaugh was an employee hired to work the soda fountain soon after the remodel. She said in the March 17, 2011 edition of the Estherville News, marking the 90th anniversary of the store, that she took care of young Alan Robinson in the basement of the store. The basement was also home to a gift shop at the time, and that was Mary's main responsibility for her after school job.

"[Alan] was a kid and he had hair," Clabaugh said at the time.

Clabaugh said the store had surprise visitors to the fountain one day. "I remember we had a still [to distill water] and the revenuers had to come and inspect it," Clabaugh said.

Mary Ann Strom was a fixture at the store for 65 years, retiring in 2018. Strom had her hands in most everything over the years, including hand-packing ice cream into pints and quarts and hand-squeezing lemons for lemonade.

During the soda fountain's heyday, fountain drinks were on the house if the Midgets had a win.

Strom said, "We gave away a lot of malts."

Other changes have happened over the last few decades, including the gradual addition of technology in the pharmacy and store, the movement of the pharmacy counter from west to east, and changing inventory to keep up with customer demand.

Many customers told the Estherville News the personal service has never wavered.

Beverly Hoien Fisher said, "Hate to see them close."

Brenda Liestman Colegrove said, "Just hate [that] this has to happen. [They] always know you and are so friendly."

Jo Ann Winters Dowing said, "I hate to see history end in the small town we live in."

Vicki Grems said, "So sad to see Estherville Drug leave."

Dolores Inman said, "I am so sorry to hear this. I loved the personal service I received. It was so easy to have a conversation with a pharmacist, and I never felt I was just a number."

What does the sale mean for customers?

More than 16 percent of rural, independent pharmacies in the U.S. shut their doors between March 2003 and March 2018, according to a policy brief published in August, 2018 by the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis at the University of Iowa. That's more than 1,200 independently owned retail pharmacies during that time, leaving about 6,400 in the rural areas.

Anthony Reznik, director of government affairs for the Independent Pharmacy Association, said the issue comes from a difference in revenue balance what makes an independent pharmacy's profit versus a large chain.

"[For independent pharmacies], most of what they make comes from reimbursements from medications, whereas for large chains, it's a very small aspect of where their revenue is coming from. [The chains] have retail sales to keep them afloat, and prescriptions just get customers in the door so they can spend money on other things," Reznik said

Hy-Vee and other chains that have swept up the customer base of rural, independent pharmacies say there are advantages to the buying power of a chain store.

Christina Gayman, director of public relations for Hy-Vee, Inc., said, "Hy-Vee has acquired Estherville Drug, and the prescription files will be available at Hy-Vee Pharmacy inside the Estherville Hy-Vee grocery store beginning August 7. Pharmacy patients will receive a letter in the next two weeks from Hy-Vee that will include additional details. Customers' prescriptions will transfer into the Hy-Vee system automatically to make for a seamless transition."

Gayman said the company will share more details about the transition as they become available.

Alan Robinson said the building will be available for sale or rent. They cannot sell or rent to a pharmacy for five years per Estherville Drug's agreement with Hy-Vee.

Alan Robinson said on his retirement, "We have appreciated the tremendous support the community has shown us and their business through the years."



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