Senior Staff Writer
After 136 years of pharmaceutical service to the community — 45 of them under the name of Jackson’s Drug Store — the Monticello institution closed on Tuesday, Dec. 13, as well as closing its Greenville store, with all drug inventories and customers lists going to CVS Pharmacy.
What will become of the expansive downtown Monticello building that fronts on Jefferson and Dogwood streets — and whether it will serve as a home to some other kind of business — remains to be determined, as Tracey Jackson continues wrestling with the question.
One thing is certain: the closing was forced by a confluence of circumstances and outside forces that included mandatory mail orders, continuing reimbursement cuts, and government regulations that finally made it impossible for Jackson’s to continue operating.
It was with “great sadness and regret” — as the Jacksons informed the store’s loyal customers in a letter mailed in November — that the decision to sell was reached.
“We cannot begin to tell you how hard this is for all for us,” Tracey wrote. “In our hearts, you are our family. Your friendship, loyalty and patronage …have been appreciated. You have been great customers and friends.”
For the Jacksons, it all started in January 1966, when the Valdosta natives purchased the B. W. Johnson Drug Store, an institution that had operated in the same downtown Monticello location under succeeding owners since 1875, and whose name the couple changed to Jackson’s Drug Store.
Charles, a graduate of the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy, had more or less been looking for a business to purchase since his graduation in 1959.
“God led us by the hand every step of the way,” Tracey says of the purchase of Jackson’s Drug Store, noting that several earlier attempts to purchase other pharmacies had fallen through at the last minute for one reason or another.
Initially, the drug store consisted of a single building of 1,500 square feet that faced Dogwood Street in the middle of the block. In 1973, the Jacksons purchased an adjacent building and expanded the business to its present L configuration, allowing for public access from both Dogwood and North Jefferson streets.
The addition further allowed for expansion of Jackson’s offerings, including a larger health and beauty aid department, a bigger card section, a convalescent needs department, and a cosmetics counter, as well as the centralization of its prescription department for customers’ convenience and accessibility.
In 1987, Jackson’s Drug Store acquired the stock of Simmons Drugs Store, another downtown Monticello business that traced its origin to the 1850s. Simmons’ coffee shop, in fact, was the original home of the Liars Club, a group that now calls the Rare Door Restaurant home — the latter being an adjunct of Jackson’s Drug Store.
In 1993, the Jacksons purchased the Greenville store, which they had previously owned in the 1970s and which Charles’ dad, Otis, had first owned in the 1930s.
Tracey, a former scrub nurse, says her involvement with the business was limited at first, as hers was primarily the role of a stay-at-home mom. She credits Charles with carrying the business almost single-handedly in the early years. But as their children — Marsha, Danny and David — grew, she had more time on her hands, and found herself more and more involved with the operation of the enterprise, until it eventually became her life’s work, Tracey says.
From the beginning, Jackson’s has been wholly a family business, and the interest in pharmacology is a deep and abiding one in the Jacksons, if it’s not a family trait. Charles’ father, Otis Jackson, was a pharmacist; his brother, William Jackson, was a pharmacist; daughter Marsha Plaines is a pharmacist; son Danny Jackson, who operated the Greenville store, is a pharmacist; and granddaughter Mallory Plaines is studying to become a pharmacist. The idea, in fact, was that Mallory would one day join the business, if not take it over eventually.
“We’re devastated,” Tracey says of the closing, her eyes brimming with tears. “I tried everything I could to keep the business going. We have fought and fought to remain viable, but finally we didn’t have anything to fight with. There comes a point, you can’t do anymore.”
She worries about their customers, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, noting that Jackson’s typically delivered medicines to people’s homes, took them to the hospital if they needed it, and sometimes even gave them food if the situation warranted it.
“It’s what you do,” Tracey says. “You take care of people. That’s the hardest part for us to give up. You’ve got some people who have nothing. That’s why I’m so mad.”
She tells a story — one of many — of a few years ago when Charles was in the hospital and the nurse recognized him from 23 years earlier and thanked him profusely for giving her medicine for her sick baby at a time when she had been quite desperate and penniless.
“That’s the way he was,” Tracey says of Charles, who stepped down as pharmacy manager upon receipt of his 50th year pharmacy certificate and let Marsha take over the position. “If you were old or a baby, you got your medicine regardless.”
Anger flashes in her eyes when she speaks of the lack of local support that partly contributed to the closing of the business, as it has to the closure of other hometown businesses.
“Don’t they understand that if you don’t have a town, you don’t have jobs?” Tracey says. “How do you get people to wake up to the fact that if you don’t shop at home, home businesses won’t survive.”
But she reserves her greatest anger and frustration for politicians and the insurance companies, acknowledging that even if more people had shopped locally, it wouldn’t have saved Jackson’s.
She cites in particular reduced reimbursements and insurance companies’ mandate that their clients purchase their prescription drugs via mail order. And the talk is that Medicaid prescriptions also will be mandated to go mail order next year, she says.
“When people had a choice of mail order or a home pharmacy, we could still compete,” Tracey says. “But not with mandatory mail order.”
She recites horror stories of people receiving too much medicine, or the wrong prescription, or someone else’s order via mail.
She fervently believes that common sense will ultimately prevail, and that mail order and other of the more onerous industry practices will cease. Unfortunately for Jackson’s, it won’t be around to enjoy the change, she says. She feels especially bad for Mallory, who is being deprived of the opportunity to continue in the family business, she says.
On the positive side, she notes, Marsha and Danny will continue practicing pharmacy in the area.
Tracey, meanwhile, hasn’t given up on the idea of continuing some kind of business in the downtown Monticello building. She has several ideas in the hopper, but none she wants to talk about presently. Indeed, the anger and sadness aside, Tracey remains as positive and optimistic as ever. As she herself tells it — and as anyone who knows her will attest — she is veritable powerhouse of energy and faith.
“God has a plan for our lives,” Tracey says. “He leads us by the hand, even if we may be confused at times. Sometimes I say, Lord, I know you’re leading me, but you’re certainly throwing me some curves.”
Leave it to Marsha to put things into perspective. Tracey says when she was going on and on about what would happen to their customers once Jackson’s ceased, Marsha reminded her, “God’s a big God, mom. He can take care of us and He can take care of the other people too.”
ECB Publishing Photos Courtesy of Marsha Plaines