For the first three or four months after Michael McIntosh and his father Larry purchased Schroeder Drugs in Downtown Washington last year, Michael was in the store every day working. And his time spent at the cash register was some of the most enlightening, because he was able to interact with the customers and listen as they shared stories about what the store has meant to them.
They made comments like, “I’ve never been to another pharmacy,” and “My grandmother took me here, my mom went here, and she still does, and now I’m taking my kids here.”
“It’s a family tradition,” said McIntosh. “It means something to them, and it means something to me, even though I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up with it. But you can tell that it means a lot to the community.”
Earlier this month, Schroeder Drugs, at the corner of Elm and Second streets, celebrated its 90th anniversary with a customer appreciation day that included free food, attendance prizes and a drawing to win a free TV.
“We get to thank them for being loyal customers for us, and throw a party for the staff at the same time,” said McIntosh.
Long History of Pharmacies
Since the 1850s, there have been numerous pharmacists operating stores in Washington. Among the earliest were August W. Kruegger, Ludwig Muench, G.H. Sapper, E.W. Gallenkamp and F.W. Horn, who had a store at the corner of Elm and Second streets.
Horn’s store was purchased by Henry R. Baumann sometime in the early 1880s, according to an article by Robert Bargen in the July 21, 1955, issue of the Washington Citizen.
After Baumann died in 1927, the store was operated by his son, Arnold, until it was purchased by Edwin L. and Florence M. Schroeder, who renamed the business, Schroeder Drugs. Mr. Schroeder came to Washington from New Haven, Bargen noted in his Citizen article.
“The Schroeder Building, housing five physicians and a dentist, has become an important medical center in recent years,” Bargen wrote. “The store has in the past several years ranked first among Rexall Drug Stores independently owned in the state of Missouri, and third among all Rexall Stores in the state.”
At one time, Washington had five drug- stores with pharmacists in the downtown area, including C.E. Kuhlmann’s and Harold Kropp’s. All had soda fountains that drew in a large number of young people.
Currently Schroeder Drugs is the only independent pharmacy operating in Washington.
Fire in 1945 Changes Building
A fire on Feb. 17, 1945, destroyed much of the three-story building. The cause of the fire is thought to have been electrical.
“It started in the bakery that was located to the rear of the building,” a Schroeder’s ad in The Missourian from 1989 noted.
The fire caused the store’s safe to fall through the floor to the basement, and during reconstruction had to be repositioned using a crane.
Today that same safe is still in use at Schroeder’s. The name on the front is worn off, but it looks like it says Hamilton, said McIntosh.
After the fire, the third floor of the building was removed and the entire exterior was finished in an art-deco style with a distinctive curve at the corner of the upper floor.
Comparing old photos of the building before the fire to today, it’s hard to recognize it as the same building, said Marc Houseman, director of the Washington Historical Society. But the building was never razed and rebuilt. It is the same building from before the fire, said Houseman.
Lunch Stand, Bus Stop, Gift Shop, More
The shorthand description of Schroeder’s is to call it a drug store or a pharmacy, but it is so much more than that and has been for most, if not all of its 90 years.
Judy Wildt, who began working at Schroeder’s when she was a teenager and today is the buyer for the gift department, among other duties, remembers when there was a lunch/soda stand in the rear of the building (where cards are sold today), when the store sold everything from small appliances like blenders and mixers to cosmetics, and when Schroeder’s was a bus stop for a route into St. Louis.
“We had to fill out the tickets for the customers. We had to keep a separate log. We had chairs here, and customers would come here to wait,” said Wildt, noting that was as recent as the 1980s.
In those days, Schroeder’s had a camera department that covered half of one wall and a cigar department so plentiful that the store even sold single cigars.
“Every little thing you wanted, we sold it,” said Wildt.
On Sundays, that was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Schroeder’s always had a line out the door — especially after 10 a.m. Mass let out at St. Francis Borgia Church — for people waiting to buy their copy of the newspaper.
“They would have one girl doing the register, and another had a little cash box, just to keep up with it,” said Wildt.
The Missourian also has been sold at Schroeder’s for many years.
When Wildt began working at Schroeder’s 46 years ago, the pharmacy counter was located on the south wall of the building near the entrance, and there was a large cosmetics department in the back. Now the store sells very little cosmetics.
More than just a pharmacy, Schroeder’s has a large over-the-counter department for all types of cough, cold, aches and other health needs. The store also has a large selection of support hosiery and other support aids.
The gift department includes a baby section, American Greeting cards, Russell Stover candies, other novelty candies and cold soda, plush animals, garden and home décor, seasonal items, educational toys like the Melissa and Doug brand and books, school supplies, Old World Chirstmas ornaments and much more.
People Who’ve Made Schroeder’s Special
As with any independently owned business with longevity, Schroeder’s is known as much for the people who’ve worked there over the years as its service and merchandise.
That list includes the late Elmer Heidmann, who worked as a pharmacist for 54 years and managed the store for 42 years. In fact, he was so prominent in Schroeder’s operations that many people mistakenly believe that he was a owner.
“I’ve heard stories from people who are in their 40s now who say, ‘Whenever I was sick, my parents brought me in to see Elmer (Heidmann). Then they’d decide if I needed to see a doctor or go to the hospital,’ ” said McIntosh. “(Elmer) was like the triage unit. That’s a pretty high respected thing.”
Bill Verdine, who worked at Schroeder’s for 47 years as a pharmacist and was an owner from 1989 to 2008, and his wife, Judy, who also worked at the store, said for them it was always the people — co-workers and customers — who made the work so enjoyable and worth doing.
“That’s what we missed when we retired,” said Judy Verdine. “We had wonderful employees and customers.”
The Verdines, who owned the store along with fellow pharmacists Larry Weidle and Paul Mozgola, remembering having a large staff, as many as 30 employees, and long hours.
The pharmacy was often open late, at least until 9 p.m., and if the doctors who had offices above the store were still seeing patients, the pharmacist on duty stayed until the doctors left for the day.
“Bill sometimes stayed until 11 p.m. or even midnight,” Judy Verdine recalled. “As long as the doctors were in their office, Bill would stay open to fill those prescriptions. On Sundays, they were open from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then they’d come back from 5 to 6 p.m. . . . It was service.”
She can remember Bill getting called into the store on Christmas Day one time, when a family with relatives in from out of town had a sick child.
Heidmann also was known for being available at any time and any day of the week for someone in need.
Debbie Frankenberg, a longtime Schroeder’s customer, said she likes to shop at the store as much for its employees as for its conveniences and merchandise.
“I live west of town, so this is convenient for me, but honestly, even if it weren’t I would still shop here, just because of what it adds to the community and the neighborhood,” said Frankenberg. “They always have what I need, and the employees are always helpful.
“It’s hard to put into words . . . but it’s nice to see Schroeder’s has maintained. Even though they have new owners, the name, the location and (some of) the employees are still the same,” Frankenberg remarked.
Today, Schroeder’s employs more than a dozen people, including several who have worked for the store for 30- and 40-plus years. Their photos and a brief bio for each of them is featured on the store’s website, schroederdrugs.com.
Add Flu Shots, MedSynchronization, Expanding Deliveries
One new service that Schroeder Drugs has added is flu shots and other immunization shots. People do not need an appointment or a prescription, said McIntosh. They can just walk in to the pharmacy and ask for a flu shot.
Another service the pharmacy has added is MedSyncronization, for customers who have multiple prescriptions.
“We get them so they are all due at the same time, so you’re not constantly refilling prescriptions,” McIntosh explained.
This helps the store cut down on delivery expenses, but even better is that it makes the customer happy, he said.
“On top of that, we will call you five days before it’s due, to ask if anything has changed. We say, ‘These are the prescriptions we have that need to be filled. Do you want these?’ ‘Yes.’ Then we deliver them,” said McIntosh.
This simplifies the pharmacist’s job because it cuts down on unexpected delays in getting prescriptions filled because a doctor is out of the office or something like that.
With MedSynchronization cutting down on delivery expenses, McIntosh said Schroeder’s is now looking at expanding its delivery area.
The only thing the Schroeder’s building doesn’t allow for is a drive-through service, which McIntosh has looked every which way to try to implement.
“These windows,” he said, gesturing to windows in a back room, “are exterior windows, and there is an alley behind us, but we don’t own it. And the height difference is big, so that would be a problem. But when you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is try to find parking.”
And that is why Schroeder’s free delivery service is so important, McIntosh noted.
Renovating Upstairs for Apartments
For many years the space above Schroeder Drugs was rented to a number of doctors and then, most recently, to CenterPointe Outpatient Services, which offered therapy for teens and adults with mental health and addiction needs. But since CenterPointe closed its Washington facility, the space has been vacant.
Now, Larry McIntosh, who owns the building, is looking at the possibility of renovating the space for as many as six one- and two-bedroom apartments.
“We have a contractor lined up and blueprints of what we think it’s going to look like,” said Michael McIntosh. “We are waiting on the bids to be 100 percent sure we can move forward with it.”
The ground floor to the south would eventually be used for a retail space, although McIntosh said finding a tenant for that won’t be a priority until after the apartment construction is complete.
Looking ahead, McIntosh said he’s very excited about the future of Schroeder Drugs.
Schroeder Drug is located at 201 Elm St. in Downtown Washington.