Family-Owned East Texas Pharmacy Has 133-Year History
By TIM MONZINGO
WILLS POINT -- Adele Monning is comfortable inside the Bruce and Human Drug Co. in downtown Wills Point. She chatters familiarly with customers and diners at the store's cafe.
It's an atmosphere in which she's comfortable because for 133 years, it's been in her family.
The Bruce and Human Drug Company, on the corner of Fourth and North Commerce Streets, is the oldest continually family-owned pharmacy in the state.
"I never expected to run it when I married and moved away," Mrs. Monning said.
The pharmacy started as an apothecary in 1879 when Oscar Pabst, a German-born immigrant, set up shop in the little town. Tennessean Blount Wright Bruce married into Pabst family when he took Littie Pabst for a wife, according to documents detailing the pharmacy's past, adding the first part of the store's name.
Bruce partnered with J.H. Human in 1877, a business man whose fingers were not only in the pharmacy business, but also in the Rhodes-Human Lumber Company and Wills Point Cotton Oil Company, according to the documents, which are the basis for the pharmacy's historical marker.
Through the generations, the pharmacy was passed down within the family until it came into the care of Mrs. Monning, though she readily admits she's no pharmacist.
She said the last pharmacist, one of her uncles, in her family left the business in the 1940s.
Despite that fact, she said it's the idea of the family pharmacy that's continued to make the business successful.
Freda Malone, the store manager, said the mission has always been simple.
"Whatever the need as in the community (is what we did)," she said.
Of course the basis for the pharmacy is medicine and the history of that is evident throughout the shop. Not just behind the raised platform where the pills are doled out.
Mrs. Monning literally uncovered pieces of the stores history while cleaning in a backroom one day, she said. She pulled a sheet back to uncover cases of old medicine bottles, labels still attached, patient history and medicine ledgers, and old product displays.
"I thought 'my goodness, we need to do something with this," she said.
So the pharmacy added history to their goods and services and now half of a long wall is devoted to the dusty prescriptions and medicine labels, ledgers and old stamps. There's the working scale which, for a penny, visitors can still use to weigh themselves, an antique cash register that visitors have tried to buy from the store, and even old stock certificates.
Throughout the decades, rising costs of goods and regulation forced the pharmacy to expand their offerings. Nativity sets from Italy, greeting cards, band supplies, and a little cafe are among the sources of revenue for the shop now.
Mrs. Malone has helped expand the product base at the shop with clothing, toys, bibles and books, and other products. It's all been a battle to keep money flowing, she said.
"All the legislation that's been passed in the last year was really stressful on for small pharmacies," she said.
Diversifying their products is one way the business continues, she and Mrs. Monning agreed.
Of course regular customers like Sparky Sparks are still a cornerstone of the business.
Sparks moved to Wills Point 25 years ago and he said he's been coming to the pharmacy ever since.
"Everybody knows you by name here," he said. "All my family prescriptions are here."
When asked why he chose the small family business over other pharmacies, Sparks listed three words: family, service and continuity.
It's those elements, apparent in the customers and staff of the pharmacy that has kept it in business, Sparks and Mrs. Monning agrees.
"We take care of our patients. We know them by name," she said. "We try to do what helps people. That's what we're here to do."