Take a step back in time and visit Auburn Drug Company, founded in 1896 by James Thomas Gibson, and since 1974 owned by Charles and Patricia Fink.
[NOTE: the following was written in 1996.]
Auburn Drug Company will welcome its one hundredth anniversary this spring! Over this last century, the drug store's four pharmacist/owners have dispensed well over one million prescriptions to Auburn and surrounding area residents.
Though Auburn Drug Company has seen a major transformation in technology and business growth, it still very much exudes a "turn of the century" feeling. This feeling starts when you open the door and hear Glen Miller's "In The Mood." Your gaze is drawn to the marble soda fountain as you step forward over the beautiful individually-lain, marble tile floor. Glancing up, as your hand glides over the rich patina of the original oak display cabinets, you notice the historical white wood panel work. As you are taking all of this in, you notice the large selection of unique and whimsical gift ware. Then, as you take your prescription to the back counter to be filled, you are informed that it will be ready momentarily while the computer transmits to your insurance company. As you now see.... truly a blend of the old with the new.
Have a seat at the fountain and join us for a phosphate or an ice cream soda! Come with us back in time and meet all of the generations who brought to life and stewarded the heart and soul of this old store.... When James Thomas Gibson was a young man in the 1880's, formal training at a college was not necessary to become a pharmacist or, better known in those days, a druggist. Mr. Gibson trained with a druggist in Woodland, CA and then later he was an apprentice druggist at a drug store in Loomis. When his training was complete he moved to Auburn.
In 1896, James Gibson opened his own drug store, Auburn Drug Company, The first site of Auburn Drug was apparently located below the historic Freeman Hotel on Railroad Street (now known as Lincoln Way). In the following year, Mr. Gibson married Elizabeth Schillianskey. The first three children of their marriage, Charles, Ester, and Mervyn, were all born in the apartment in the back of the Drug Store.
In 1906 the Hink block was built. Mr Gibson relocated Auburn Drug Company down the street in part of the Hink block at 818 Lincoln way where the present day Roper's Jewelers exists. The Gibson's last child, Helen Mae Gibson Silvius, was born at their new home on the corner of Reamer and Tuttle streets, May 26, 1907. Mrs. Silvius' earliest memory of her father's store was the marble soda fountain with its original Tiffany lamp. Sadly, she remembers when her father sold the entire soda fountain to the Sugar Plum Ice Creamery. Helen Mae has mostly good memories of Auburn Drug though. She remembers her father entertaining the only three doctors in town who would come to the Store for an evening of relaxation. Warmed by the small wood stove in the back of the pharmacy, they would enjoy a game of Cribbage or Pinochle. Helen Mae recalls memories of her father's only form of advertising which was large metal signs with the design of an owl and the words "Hoos your druggist" - J. T. Gibson. The signs had to be replaced quite often as they were used for shotgun target practice.
A childhood friend of Helen Mae's, Harry Rosenberry, remembers him and his sister Sophie playing with Helen and her siblings. They would all go to the "Tent Shows," some of which were located where the present day Auburn Drug is located. The contour of the land in this area provided for a perfect natural ampitheatre. Helen Mae most vividly remembers the flu epidemic of 1917-1918. She was the drug store's delivery girl, and when she delivered the medicine through town she had to wear a mask for protection from the flu. Helen Mae's brothers became pharmacists in other towns and never did take over Auburn Drug Company from their father. In 1921, Mr. Gibson sold his store to Harry Swanson and the Gibson family moved to Berkeley.
Harry and Grace Swanson are remembered with fondness by Bill and Gene Scott who, along with their father, worked in the Swanson's beautiful rose garden. They had a lovely Spanish Colonial home built on upper Lincoln Way. Another young man, Don Robinson, was hired to drive Mrs. Swanson to her family home in San Francisco. She was always seen being driven in a black La Salle or Packard. The Swanson's are remembered as being well-groomed, quiet, even stately, but always very kind.
In 1925 Mr Swanson had the present day Auburn Drug Company building erected at 815 Lincoln Way, which is across the street from the Hink Block. When he moved the business he re-purchased the original soda fountain from the Sugar Plum and had it installed where it is today, Home again!
In 1941, Clarence and Amy Reeves purchased Auburn Drug Company from Mr. Swanson. Clarence had been a pharmacist at Stevens Drug on High Street. His father and brothers all pooled their resources to help the young couple into the store. Clarence and Amy worked together, he as pharmacist, she as bookkeeper and clerk. After a few years they were able to repay the family and achieve sole ownership of "Reeves Auburn Drug." In 1946 their son Albert was born. Albert also worked in the store, studied pharmacy, and later became a physician.
Under the Reeves' ownership the old store flourished. It was a jewel of a store where you could purchase products such as Elizabeth Arden (a rarity in Auburn). They were extremely dedicated to preserving the drug store, and they resisted the then current trend of removing the soda fountain.
In 1973 at an Elk's Club Dinner, Clarence took Charles Fink asided, who was at the time working as a pharmacist for Sierra Drug. Clarence said he felt it was time for him to sell Auburn Drug Company. He wanted to sell the drug store to someone who would treasure it as much as he had. Clarence knew that Charley's family had been in Placer County since the 1860's. He also knew that Charley had delivered Valley Dairy Ice Cream while at Placer High School in the 40's. Most of all, he believed they shared similar views on what a professional pharmacy should be.
The transfer of ownership of Auburn Drug Company went to Charley and Patricia in February of 1974 with the help of Clarence and Amy Reeves and John Raffetto of the old Placer National Bank. All on a handshake, with honesty for collateral, and the store was ours. We took the responsibilities that Amy, Clarence, and others before them had shared.
Our children, Thomas and Heidi, were 7 and 6 when we purchased the store. After school they would play upstairs making "houses" out of giant cardboard boxes. They found many amusing toys in the old drug store: wheelchairs, crutches, and they even found a large box of envelope sealing wax.
What treasures were to be found in the old store! Among the various curiosities, we found the original typewriter used in the 1890's, an old doctor's bag, endless old bottles still holding various medicines, and all of the original prescriptions dating back to the beginning of Auburn Drug Company. Originally the prescriptions had been pasted and kept in the used Freeman Hotel registries. One time when Charley was looking through the old signatures from the Hotel he found his Great-Grandfather Fred Ellsworth's signature.
When Mr. Swanson took over Auburn Drug, prescriptions started being kept one upon another on metal rods. As a stack of these prescriptions grew to around two feet, the stack was moved to the wall next to the staircase. As employees would scurry up the stairs, and incidentally rub the edges of the prescriptions, the files eventually became cylindrically shaped. We keep one of the files downstairs on display to show to curious customers. In the second year we owned the drug store, we installed the first pharmacy computer in Auburn. No longer did those tedious pharmacy records have to be recorded by hand. After 1985, the charge accounts and registers were linked up with our Mavis Pharmacy computer system.
In 1983 James and Janene Coleman merged their Placer County Pharmacy with Auburn Drug Company, bringing their loyal customers with them. Jim was with us until 1987 when he decided to semi-retire.
Over the years, Auburn Drug Company has seen its share of employees. Since we have owned the store we have seen many come and go. There have been a handful that have helped us to keep alive the spirit of this company..... Charley's sister Marion Herdal, Doris Ferreira, Jeannie Wuesthoff, Liz Briggs, Jean Vogler, Ray Warren, Valeta Mason, our daughter Heidi Magnussen, Tracey Fain Tichenor, Claudia Buford, Andrea Hall, Karl Fritsch, Liliana Mehner, and many faithful others.
Without the dedication and committment of our most treasured nineteen year employee, Liz Briggs, Auburn Drug Company would not be what it is today. Under Charley's guidance, Liz has helped to "grow" the store into what can be seen today. The pharmacy department of our seemingly small Auburn Drug is thriving. The same can be said for the drug store's gift and dry goods department where Heidi Magnussen has also been a tremendous help.
Over 100 years, Auburn Drug Company has changed. It has moved locations three different times, had four different owners, numerous employees, changing demands, yet something about it remains unchanged. It's a feeling of course! A by-gone era, but a fleeting feeling that you've been here before, that you are stepping back in time.