HEFLIN— After 116 years of serving customers, a business landmark here has changed hands. Wright Drug Company on Ross Street has been sold to Martin’s Pharmacy, which operates four pharmacies in Calhoun County.
Gary Wright, who co-owned the Heflin pharmacy with his brother,Pete Wright, filled prescriptions for the last 46 years but Monday was his final day for that duty; Tuesday he’ll be back just to help with inventory.
Wright said he said he will miss his customers — four generations’ worth, in some cases. They are, he said, “very loyal customers — great, great people.”
Wright said the store will keep its traditional name and the current employees will stay, including the head pharmacist, Ryan Jackson. There are no other family members to take over the business, thus the reason for the sale to Martin.
Martin’s Pharmacy is a 20-year-old family pharmacy owned by Chris Martin.
“We appreciate the patronage of Wright Drug Company in the past and look forward to serving them in the future,” Martin said.
Photos of Wright’s father and grandfather hang next to the prescription counter on a high shelf adorned by antique cameras.
Wright’s grandfather, Lee Roy Wright, started the business in 1902 and the pharmacy moved to its current location in 1904. Wright said his grandfather also practiced medicine for 61 years in Cleburne County.
Wright’s dad, William W. Wright, also a professional photographer, ran the pharmacy for almost 50 years, dying just two weeks before that milestone in 1988.
Wright remembers as a kid helping his dad at the pharmacy haul wheelbarrow loads of bottles needed for medications.
As a kid, Wright’s brother, Pete, worked the soda fountain — which was removed in 1961 — and later he worked his way on to fill the manager’s position at the business.
Pete said what he would remember most about his former business was its customers, “the people that we’ve met and served — they mean a lot.”
Gary Wright started filling prescriptions in 1974 after graduating from the pharmacy school at Auburn. Before that he had studied zoology at the University of Tennessee, where he also played football in the 1960s.
The biggest change Wright has seen in the last 46 years is how insurance companies have changed the playing field.
“Insurance has taken over. We have very little control of pricing anymore; the profits are just getting less and less. We’re doing the same number of prescriptions we did for the last 10 years but the profits are dropping off,” he said.
Wright said he feels he doesn’t have control over his business anymore.
A huge banner Monday greeted customers at the door “Wright Drug Company thanks you — our customers for 120 Years” next to a table of finger food and frozen pink punch.
A lifelong resident of Cleburne County, Clinton Ervin, 70, remembers his mother getting his medicine at Wright’s when he was a kid. Ervin said he’s purchased his medications at Wright’s since then and was struck by the longevity of the family run business.
“What can you say about a run like that, it’s magnificent, it’s amazing, with all the changes that have gone on, it’s amazing that they have — I hate to say survived, but been able to maintain and change with the times,” Ervin said.
Vicki Roberts, 40, of Fruithurst said she has always used Wright’s pharmacy and her parents have too. Like Ervin, she was amazed that the business has been around so long.
“They did something right I guess,” Roberts said.
Wright said his wife, Carol, was shocked that he’s selling the business.
“She can’t believe I’m doing it because I always said I’m leaving here on a gurney,” Wright said with a chuckle.
In the rear corner of the store a University of Tennessee flag hung above the soft drink cooler.
Wright said he put that flag up 10 years ago.
“We haven’t beat Alabama one time, I think that’s the jinx,” Wright said.
“Tomorrow I’m going to take my little Tennessee flag and walk right out the door,” Wright said.