Greencastle’s oldest business changes hands
Two men who have already gone above and beyond to continue the spirit and stewardship of independent pharmacies in their communities have made sure that a Greencastle legacy will continue.
Carl’s Drug Store on North Antrim Way is not only the oldest business in Greencastle, but is the oldest continuously-run pharmacy in the United States. Frank Ervin, owner/president of Carl’s for the past 39 years, has handed the torch to Rodger Savage. The owner of Savage Pharmacy in Waynesboro plans to keep the same service, commitment to the patients and the name.
“That’s extremely, extremely important to continue the legacy,” he related. “And in our store in Waynesboro the same thing — making a commitment to independent pharmacy and Frank’s place with the oldest operating store in the country. I’m not planning any changes. Charge always happens, but anything would be aimed at serving our customers better. Frank as agreed to stay on which helps with the continuity. The staff is stable and will stay on. The hours are the same. We won’t even change the phone number.
“A lot of people have asked me if I would change the name to Savage Family Pharmacy. Of course, I would be struck by lightning if I tried that.”
And when Ervin was ready to hand the reigns off, the opportunity for Savage to take over fit the bill.
“I very much wanted it to continue as Carl’s. I’ve had stacks of inquires for purchase over the past 10 years: from brokers, from individual corporations, the big chain stores.
“I had stacks of them. I threw them all away. I have it where I want it to be.”
Two pharmacy careers
Other than attending schools on opposite sides of the river in Philadelphia, both Ervin and Savage have followed similar paths that are steeped in a rich history of independent, community pharmacies.
Ervin’s father Richard worked for Edward Carl, the last of the Carl family who owned the store. So as a youngster Ervin grew up in the business and headed to Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science after graduating from Greencastle-Antrim High School in 1968. The deal for him to acquire the store was formulated before he had the sheep skin in hand.
“My Dad worked for Mr. Carl and that’s where I got my interest, because that’s where Dad always was. I was just here. I’d visit with my Dad,” Ervin explained.
“I had already signed papers to buy the store before I finished school. Mr. Carl had no children and he wanted to see it go to someone in the town and continue. He was a good benefactor.”
Savage followed a somewhat similar path. His father bought Minnich’s Pharmacy in 1972.
“I worked for my father. I worked for him when I was 14 as a delivery boy. Then I worked for him again when I was 18 as a clerk. I was around all the time.”
He studied at his father’s alma mater, Temple, and graduated in 1989. After working at chain pharmacies for a couple of years, he moved back to Waynesboro in 1991. That’s when a long relationship between the two pharmacists was set in motion.
Savage related, “I worked for both Frank and my Dad until 1994. I went into partnership with my Dad and then bought him out in 1999. We moved our store from downtown to the Waynesboro Mall in 2001. And now we’re here (in Greencastle).”
Since it’s founding in 1825, Carl’s Drug Store has had a number of locations in downtown Greencastle, but settled for many years on East Baltimore Street in a three-story brick building erected in 1916 for that purpose by Dr. Charles Carl. The side of the building still bears the Carl’s Drug Store name visible from the west at the roof line of that side of Baltimore Street. After buying the store in 1974, Ervin operated it there until 1999, when it was moved to 145 N. Antrim Way.
A great grandson of German immigrants, Dr. Adam Carl was born in Hanover and moved to Greencastle when studying medicine. He established Carl’s Drug Store on April 27, 1825. Three generations of Carls operated the store before Ervin’s purchase.
Many items of the Carl’s Drug Store history remain, including the original prescription “day book” , the actual apothecary kit used by Dr. Adam Carl while he made house calls and many original bottles. The store also brought the first telephone to Greencastle in 1906.
The Allison-Antrim Museum has a permanent collection for Carl’s Drug Store artifacts.
After 39 years as the proprietor, Ervin felt the time was right and the opportunity for Savage to come in clinched it. Still, Ervin won’t be going too far.
“It’s time for someone else to carry the torch, but I’m not going away,” said Ervin, who will be transitioning to employee at the store. “You need the old blended with the new to make sure it continues and you learn from each other. It’s time to do it and it’s comfortable now that there is someone to step in my shoes. My hope is that it will be continued as it is.
“This is going to work out well. It’s going to work out well for the town. It’s going to work out well for me. I’m not turning my back on my people. I just feel it’s a good move.”
Savage feels he can continue the tradition of Carl’s much like he has with his store in Waynesboro.
“First I will learn the customers and understand their needs. Second I’ve always felt the most important part of being an owner is to train employees, so I want to make sure the staff continues that philosophy as well.”
The key to Carl’s nearly 188 year history is continuity, according to Ervin.
“You know it’s always going to be there. You know you will be treated properly. You know it’s going to be the same people serving you. Customers feel secure.”
For Savage, the opportunity will allow him to spread his wings, but in similar directions.
“It would be fair to say that I had it in the back of my mind that if it ever came up (to purchase Carl’s) I’d like to at least be in a position to think about it, but never had it as a goal. Frank and I started talking a while back and it seems to have worked out in both of our interests.
“I’m excited. I like Greencastle. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Greencastle over the years. There are a lot of similarities to Waynesboro. It’s a little bit smaller. It’s a little bit quainter. But a lot’s the same too. Both have a community with strong roots and people who are engaged in the community which is exciting to see. I love that.”
Both Carl’s and Savage have weathered much to stay in business in their respective communities, but each holds on to an important key.
“At the end of the day it’s the same as it is with any independent pharmacy,” said Savage. “We can serve our patients better than other stores because we take a personal interest in our customers. That is what puts a small business in the forefront.
“In the area of pharmacy that’s a lot more important than an area of maybe buying toothpaste. There’s a connection between the pharmacist and the patient and a level of empathy and understanding that you just don’t get in the big box stores.”
Both businessmen agreed that chain store competition in the same locality isn’t nearly as much pressure on the independent pharmacy as is the issue of insurance.
Savage explained, “For the last 15 years it’s been the same thing; third party insurances and trying to get paid for the work we do and trying not to be excluded from certain contracts so that some of our customers aren’t forced to move to a different company or store because the insurance says so.”
Ervin interjected, “It’s (the insurance issue) been the most trying. I’m not sure how it was during the depression. That was a different kind of stress and strain. There were other drug stores that came and went. The stores themselves aren’t the competition, it’s the new influx with the insurances.”
The next chapter
“I can’t just retire,” Ervin said of his future plans. “Not yet. I want to do things with my wife, but I still need to keep those relationships built over all these years.
“My employees are part of my family. The community is my family.”
While Ervin is pleased that he can step back from the pressures of business ownership, he appears just as pleased that he maintained the Carl’s standard and has left it in good hands.
“That was one of my major goals. You have to be proud of something like that. It’s a legacy that you are part of. You aren’t it, but you continued it. It’s like Old Home Week. We are all part of that and it’s fantastic to keep it going.”
Would Mr. Carl be happy with the Carl’s Drug Store of 2013?
“I hope so. I think he would.”