After 50 years as a pharmacist, Bill Henderson still gets excited when he turns the key and opens the door to Henderson’s Drug Store, continuing a tradition that his great-grandfather started 161 years ago.
The family-owned pharmacy has endured the test of time, surviving an 1864 Civil War battle that leveled a town block and a 1947 fire that gutted the red brick structure by the Missouri River in Glasgow, Mo. (pop. 1,263).
“No sooner do I get in the store and the telephone’s already ringing,” says Henderson, 72, who today mans the store with son David, 40, their respective wives, Delma and Sarah, and two loyal, longtime employees.
As Bill heads back through the 1950s-style soda fountain, past shelves lined with preparations, cards, candies, and “sundries,” he greets retired postal worker Jim Partise, who begins brewing the coffee that will fuel him and other regulars and the laughter that drifts through the drugstore each morning after the store opens at 7 a.m.
As a youngster, Bill helped clean the store and served customers at the cash register. His father, Walter Sr., also operated a newspaper distribution service, and Bill delivered The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times 13 times a week for a nickel a customer.
Bill’s role model was his father. “People respected him,” Bill says. “My dad was a gentleman, he tipped his hat to the ladies.”
Bill’s father also knew how to adapt to business conditions, and the drugstore has survived because it has changed with the times. When customers couldn’t afford sundaes during the Great Depression, Walter Sr. closed the soda fountain, but he and son Walter Jr. (who died in 1974) reopened it in the flush 1950s, adding air conditioning to soften the sweltering Missouri summers.
“You go with the flow, or you don’t go,” Bill says.
Bill and David have made business changes, too. They rarely mix medicines with mortar and pestle nowadays, but a significant new service is preparing medications for local nursing home residents. On the other hand, Bill explains, “We talked it over and we felt like tobacco and liquor don’t belong in a drugstore, so we eliminated those two items.”
They admit they were late to join the information age, but after their computer crashed last winter, they’re not inclined to return to old-fashioned hand bookkeeping. The worst ice storm in 120 years delayed delivery of a new disc drive, and they had to record billing and prescription data by hand for more than a week—the way it had been done for generations—and then laboriously re-enter the information into the computer.
Customers have come to depend on the Hendersons, whatever the weather. They still deliver medicines to those who can’t pick them up.
“Anytime, day or night, when I call the Hendersons, they go open up their drugstore and fill prescriptions,” says Dr. William Marshall, Glasgow’s general practitioner. “They’re always there.”
“We’re pretty spoiled,” adds Stephanie Lewis, who often stops by to grab a coffee-to-go and chat with soda-fountain regulars. She’s been coming into the store since she was a child. “It was a big deal to go in Henderson’s and get a cherry Coke or cherry phosphate or fresh-squeezed orange drink,” she says.
David enjoys helping elderly customers first served by his grandfather 60 years ago; sometimes they bring their grandchildren in to the soda fountain. “They’ll say, ‘Now, this is what I did when I was little,’ or something to that effect.”
It’s been that way at Henderson’s Drug for five generations.