Businesses come and go in Ashland, but there are few that leave an indelible mark on the town or its citizenry. Maybe it’s the era that they existed, a less technological time perhaps, or it may simply be the business owner that made all the difference.
In all fairness to the variety of businesses in town, the ones with a high traffic count are more likely to be remembered. The local grocery store, or hardware store, and banks especially, will probably see all of us at least once in their existence. But there is one more business that most of us cannot avoid, and that’s the local drug store.
Today’s story is about a drug store everyone knew. There were others in town, but Eber’s Pharmacy on the corner of Homer Ave and Main St was an institution. The proprietor and Head Pharmacist was one Eber Levine. Eber’s Pharmacy opened in 1940, and was the longest running pharmacy in Ashland until 1975 when the store changed hands to become Centre Pharmacy. The photo accompanying today’s story shows Eber’s original store in 1946. There wasn”t an association with the larger drug chains like Rexall until later as the familiar Rexall sign is not in this picture. On or about 1955, Eber’s expanded to the store more commonly seen in later photos. The Rexall sign is seen in these pictures.
The store itself was fairly common for the times. Full prescription service, a lunch counter run by Edie Balducci where you could enjoy a Lime Rickey, and something that was important to customers that were elderly or without transportation: Free delivery. I receive correspondence from readers occasionally, and one letter mentioned the kindness of Eber. The writer moved to Ashland in the late 60s buying a home close to Framingham. She went on to say that there was no public transportation close to her home, and that the family had only one car that her husband used to go to work. They had a baby girl shortly after moving to Ashland, and one day the baby developed a diaper rash. She called Eber’s with the prescription and asked if he could hold on to it until her husband returned home from work. Eber asked if she knew about the free delivery service, and asked if she would like someone to drop the medication off. Obviously she agreed, and waited for the driver to deliver it. She was pleasantly surprised to see the driver was Eber himself. He said “Your baby must be sore from the rash.” She has never forgotten his kindness.
My personal recollection of Eber was one of a tall man with a friendly smile. He used to have a platform next to the cash register which made him even taller. It also gave him a bird’s eye panoramic view of the store, not that anyone would think of applying the five finger discount to his stock. Growing up in Ashland, Eber was bigger than life to me. He never intimidated me, but you could tell he commanded the respect of an older and wiser individual. A soft-spoken man, he always asked about your family, and he knew everyone. How he kept us all sorted out by family escapes me to this day, but he did.
Eber’s store existed during the war years of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Many of our servicemen would always make it a point to stop by and see Eber upon returning. He wasn’t just a pharmacist to these guys. He was more of a father figure. He would calmly listen to their stories and offer advice wherever he could.
As all stories do, they come to an end. Eber sold the store in 1975, and lived to be 86. He passed away in late February, 1998. His wife, Lillian, lived to be 97 passing away in 2009.
But time marches on, and today’s pharmacies are all franchised by the big chains, and half the meds we buy today are supplied by the Xpress scripts of the world and delivered to your door. Everything is done electronically, or over the phone. Although the local pharmacists are courteous and helpful, they are no longer the owners of the store. And more often than not, you never see the same one twice. You miss that connection with the tall guy behind the counter.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions