After getting discharged from the Army in 1946, I enrolled in a pre legal program at George Washington University,and worked part time for my brother Phil,who at that time owned three pharmacies. Later I switched to a pre-pharmacy curriculum,completing a portion of my subjects.The wholesale drug industry seemed more interesting,so I applied and secured a job with District Wholesale Drug,52 O Street,N.W. D.C.,in 1950. At this time there were two other wholesale drug companies, in the DC area, besides District,-_ Gilpin, and Washington Wholesale Drug Exchange.which was a coop type wholesaler. The Eli Lilly pharmaceutical manufacturer,largest manufacturer, only sold its products through a distributor(even to chains like Peoples Drug Stores which became CVS, and Drug Fairs drug stores,which became Right Aide drug stores,),unlike most other drug manufacturers who sold direct to some pharmacies,and did not include the Drug Exchange as a distributor. Becoming a Lilly Pharmaceutical distributor was a great asset for District Wholesale Drug.
My first duty at District, was to select or pick specific items ordered by its customers. Occasionally switching around to pick different items,enabled me to become familiar with District’s inventory, both pharmaceuticals ,health and beauty aids ,and other stocked products. Because of our duties,my fellow employees,and I were referred to as “pickers”. Unlike today, there were many small drug stores in the DC trading area, including Maryland, and Virginia,so we kept pretty busy,especially because the majority of merchandise ordered had to be delivered the same day. Some later, I was transferred to the telephone sales department.The personnel in this department phoned their regular customers daily,typed the pharmaceuticals and other merchandise ordered,which as mentioned had to be delivered the same day.I was assigned a certain number of drug stores to phone,and as time progressed became friendly with many of the pharmacy proprietors.Occasionally, we were requested to check and see if certain pharmaceuticals were in stock,answer incoming calls,including “will calls” to be picked up our office. Often we suggested new incoming items,and different promotions,or deals.like today you can get ____one or two free with a dozen ordered,or deal recalled,Buy One Gross of Trojans,get 5 dozen free). If desired,,drug store proprietors could order items other than pharmaceuticals,in small quataties, like 1/6 of a dozen alka seltzer small,1/3d of a dozen listerine medium–pharmaceuticals were ordered like 1 x 100 Gantrisin, or 1 x 16oz of Robitussin. . Our normal greeting when phoning a customer, was “Good morning,or Good Afternoon,”DOC”,,District”.Often the customer’s reply was to call back.Since there were deadlines for deliveries in certain neighborhoods,calling back, often created problems. I do recall that on one occasion, after a certain customer responded with 3 or 4 callbacks,I called back,and instead of my usual greeting,”Hello District”,I stated PHARMACIST! in a large voice to give the impression that I was a possible Doctor-This change resulted in the pharmacist answering the phone very quickly and politely,and uttering a few unkind words,after finding out there was no doctor on the phone,but finally giving me his order. Today like everything else,–things change –pharmacies phone in their orders on a computer,resulting in making telelphone order departments obsolete. I recall one pharmacist always replying to my greeting,”Hello, District”-with “It’s not easy Larry.”
After I had been at District for about 5 or 6 years,I was requested to work on the phones a half day and then go out on the “street”,as a salesman calling on certain customers. This was a real change of pace,and I enjoyed the change. Since the majority of these customers were very small or gave the bulk of their business to our competition,it was a bit- difficult to extract large orders,but in time I achieved good results,changing my accounts to change their purchasing habits and buy more from District ,recording larger orders in comparison to previous amount of items ordered.
Following are a few memories,of some experiences encountered as a salesman ,for District Wholesale:
When a drug store proprietor was delinquent in his payment to District,the salesman was often asked to collect the overedue bill.It wasn’t easy,the customer’s response was often,”My accountant has the check book”,or “come back next week,I’ve had some problems”.Many customers with faulty credit were placed on a COD basis and when out of funds would occasionally refuse the order,and request the driver to return.Mr. Wilson, the then credit manager would inform the salesman to become the collector. One day,I got the call–”Doc” __ ___”_has refused a COD Lilly order 3 times,you call him and deliver the order”-I phoned the delinquent “Doc”,who promised to accept and pay for the order. As I pulled up to the pharmacy, I observed a competitor’s delivery truck,and assumed that he was on a similar journey,so I rushed into the drug store,greeting “Hi Doc”! Sure enough the driver was Drug Exchange on the same mission. Doc said wait, and rushed over to a vending stamp machine which he opened,removed some cash from the machine, and finally yelled–=”Forget the order, I’ve got to put my daughter through college.”!!! One day, I entered a pharmacy, on Georgia Ave,D.C., whose proprietor was not buying anything from District. I introduced myself,and went I mentioned “District”–(A true story) He commenced pushing me out of the store–yelling “GET OUT ,YOUR COMPANY DIDN”T GIVE ME ANY HARD TO GET ITEMS DURING THE WAR”!!! As I had heard,and commonly known,it was difficult for many wholesalers,even those involved with merchandise other than normal drug store merchandise,to obtain popular items because tremendous quantities were being shipped to overseas military posts and PX’S. One day while waiting to speak to a drug store proprieter in Virginia,a lady,dressed like a character from the movie “Gone With the Wind”walked into the small drug store, holding in her hand a bottle of witch hazel,exclaiming, “,I WANT TO SEE THE PHARMACIST,THE CROOK CHARGED ME TAX ON THIS WITCH HAZEL”!! Even during the 50′s there was a 10% excise tax on so called luxuries like cosmetics,jewelry,hair tonics etc”. Since some items could be used as a luxury or medicinal purposes (witch hazel could be used as an after shave or for itching),vaseline jelly could be used for burns,or on the hair) the IRS published a list of such items that still required an excise tax payment.(Yes, the Excise Tax has been discontinued)
The manager of this drug store was familiar with the excise tax regulations-he walked to h;is phone as the unhappy customer seemed to be burning up,and said to her “I have the IRS on the phone,they say witch hazel is taxable”,The IRS wants to talk to you” the lady made an about face and continued to mutter as she walked out of the store,rather quickly..
Some time in 1959, a neighbor of mine who worked in a liquor store, told me of a run down drug store-luncheonette ,obviously lacking merchandise,on his block where he worked,that he thought could be a profitable drug store and was for sale. I investigated,this drug store around 14th and Clifton,recalling that I had attended Central High School about a block away,and observed a busy neighborhood. I consulted with my brother who thought it might have potential. My available cash was on the low side,but with my brother’s assistance,and help from an unheard of financial lending institution,(The drug store Ice Cream Supplier,who along with other ice cream companies would often make loans to ice cream buyers,who agreed to purchase their ice cream needs from the cold lender) assume a loan that the proprietor of Smith’s Pharmacy owned to the ice cream company,we made an offer which was accepted,and now I became the proprietor of Smith Pharmacy, 2518 14th Street,N.W. My former employer District Wholesale,helped by giving me an opening order of much needed drug store merchandise,payable with a monthly payment (no interest),and after hiring a pharmacy acquaintance, Doc Martin Jones, I too now became a “DOC”.
COMING SOON!! MEMORIES OF OPERATING SMITH PHARMACY 1959-April 4, 1968,WHEN THE DC 68 RIOT RESULTED IN THE UNEXPECTED EXPIRATION OF SMITH PHARMACY!!
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