In 2001, I moved to Memphis and became a writer, which is a person who sits at her computer and meets no one. I left behind a busy law practice in Jackson, Mississippi, so the change was a shock. Quiet days at home, on my own in a new city, no outlet to meet people. Then I found Wiles-Smith Drugstore.
I never became a fixture at the old-fashioned drugstore with the soda fountain counter and formica-topped tables. I went just often enough to keep my heart full. Now it’s closing, and my heart is sad.
You see, Wiles-Smith was mine. Driving down Union Avenue, I spied it and pulled in. No one said, “Oh, you have to try out Wiles-Smith.” No article bragged about its malted milks and tuna salad sandwiches on toasted wheat bread. My husband never said, “You know what’s a great place to eat in Memphis? Wiles-Smith.”
Instead, I saw the lettering on the sign, the open shelving, the cheerful tables, and I recognized it. When I was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, it was called Parkin’s Pharmacy, where we went to get free Cokes while our prescription was filled. At the drugstore next to Jitney 14, we charged Mother’s presents on her account, blissfully unaware this meant she was paying for her own Mother’s Day bubble bath. I first met Archie and Betty at Parkin’s in Belhaven, and Supergirl, too, when she had the secret eye in the back of her head. Not until I was researching for this post did I learn what had given my childhood hero the creepy third eye.
When I returned to Jackson as an adult, the drugstore was called Brent’s Drugs. The store was located in Fondren next to where Mother’s hairdresser had been in the 1960s, but, back then, we had Parkin’s so I didn’t discover Brent’s until I was a grownup. Brent’s had the best egg and olive sandwiches a girl could ask for, probably still does. Brent’s Drug is now a diner, unlike Parkin’s, which closed long ago.
Soon, Wiles-Smith may, too, reside only on memory lane.
A small hope glimmers. The retiring owner of Wiles-Smith will sell the business if a buyer steps forward. It appears the continuing business would have to do without the prescription side of revenue, not a good sign when Fred’s recently announced the closing of over fifty stores because, without a pharmacy, they were not performing economically.
Someone could buy it, I suppose, and make it a hip retro diner like Brent’s. That would be nice, but Wiles-Smith would still be gone. No more bags of chips you snagged off the rack yourself. No more sitting at the counter unnoticed, your pocketbook resting on the floor beside your stool. No more watching time slip by in the mirror over the milkshake machine. Life, it passes. And takes lots of good things with it.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .