Closing Congdon’s Pharmacy -November/December 2007

The end of a Norman Rockwell era

by: Joshua H. Balling

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Attending middle school at Academy Hill in the early 1960s, Maxine Howes would walk into town most days after class to the police department, where her father Wendell was chief.

She would ask him for a quarter to buy an ice cream cone at the soda fountain at Congdon’s Pharmacy. If he wasn’t there, she’d usually be able to talk one of the officers on duty into giving her one instead.

Then she’d head up to Main Street for the cone before trekking back to the station to catch a ride home.

In high school, Howes, now Maxine Albright, and most of her friends hung out nearly every day after school at Congdon’s.

“I don’t know if it was where the ‘cool’ kids hung out, but I do remember hanging out there going way back,” said Albright. “In high school, it was the be all to end all. That’s where you went, Congdon’s. We never went to the other pharmacy. Vanilla Cokes and peanut butter nabs. That’s what we always got. I know we sat at Congdon’s because they had three or four stools. The mirror was to the left. Even back during football season, we’d have a pep rally at the high school, and then a car parade to the drug stores, and cheer on the sidewalk. There weren’t many people around, and not much for us to do, but that’s where you went.”

A couple of decades later, Congdon’s was still a popular gathering spot. Through much of the 1990s, island historian and author Nat Philbrick entered Congdon’s on Main Street at least twice a day.

In the morning, on his way to work at the Egan Maritime Foundation at the Coffin School on Winter Street, he stopped in for a cup of coffee. He’d return at lunchtime for a sandwich or a cup of soup.

“What’s great about these kinds of places is that you just sort of show up and see people. There’s just a bond there,” said Philbrick. “It’s very special, low-key. These kinds of places constitute the fabric of any community. It’s a true gathering spot. You can’t go to the mall and get that kind of a feeling.”

Sadly, the tradition will not continue. On Sept. 30, the Main Street icon closed its doors for good after more than 150 years as a pharmacy. Purchased by the owners of the high-end jewelry store Seaman Schepps, who for years have leased a storefront across Main Street, the building will be renovated over the next several months into a larger retail space than their current location.

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