Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy

Bud & Dolly Gagnon were the owners of the Wedgewood Pharmacy from 1952 to 1972 (spelled with that extra “e!!”) and the Gagnons saw the drugstore business evolve from old-time traditions into the streamlined service of the modern era.

Bud Gagnon served in the Army Air Force during World War Two, and afterward attended the UW on the GI Bill.    He met his wife Dolly in 1948 when he was working at his first job at a pharmacy in Wallingford.  The Gagnons moved to Kent where Bud worked at a small pharmacy for the first four years of their married life.   In 1952 Bud was told by a pharmaceutical salesman that McGee’s Drugstore in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle was planning to sell out.   Bud took the opportunity to buy McGee’s store.

At first, the Wedgewood Pharmacy continued in the same location as McGee’s, 8501 35th Ave NE, a small storefront in the same building as McVicar Hardware.   In later years the pharmacy space became a drycleaner’s, then a pet groomer.  In 2001 the space was absorbed by All That Dance to expand their studio.

Wedgewood Pharmacy gets a big new building in 1955

In October 1955 the Wedgwood Echo community newspaper announced the plans for Bud Gagnon’s new pharmacy building, in an article in the top left corner of this edition’s front page.

After about three years in that very small space on the corner of NE 85th Street, the opportunity came for the Gagnons to build a new building at the north end of the block.   In 1955 the Gagnons built a large new store for their pharmacy on the corner of NE 86th Street and 35th Ave NE.  In 1972 the pharmacy building was torn down and replaced by the present brick bank building.

In Bud Gagnon’s new building there was space not only for an expanded pharmacy department, but also for variety-store merchandise and a soda fountain.   The store sold school supplies, cosmetics, toys, greeting cards, newspapers, comics and magazines.   There was a tobacco department with fine cigars in a humidified display case.   There was a penny-candy counter where neighborhood children, clutching their one or two pennies, would spend long moments deciding which piece of candy to buy.

Wedgewood Pharmacy’s old-fashioned soda fountain style

Wedgewood Pharmacy’s soda fountain and lunch counter offered soft drinks, soup, sandwiches and real “malteds” made with ice cream and flavored syrup.   The lunch counter was a hit with local bank and business employees who liked to get a quick bite to eat at noon.   On weekday mornings Wedgwood housewives would meet at the store for coffee, shopping and socializing, and in the afternoon teenagers returning home from school would gather around the soda fountain for soft drinks and ice cream.

Wedgwood Echo newspaper of October 21, 1955, announced the opening events of the new pharmacy.

Pharmacies lose their monopoly on some items in the 1950s

In the 1950s there were more neighborhood pharmacies than there are now, because Fair Trade laws gave pharmacies the right to set minimum prices for their goods, and drugstores had a monopoly on some over-the-counter items like aspirin, cough syrup, cold and stomach remedies.   In 1956 these laws were overturned as unfair restraint of trade, and by the late 1950s supermarkets had won the right to sell the items.

Wedgewood Pharmacy carried on in the 1950s because it was well-known for its free 24-hour-a-day home delivery of prescriptions and remedies such as antacids for late-night ulcer attacks.   The Gagnons had a “Pill Wagon,” at first a British-made Hillman car and later a VW, which made the rounds.   The Pill Wagon was often driven by the Gagnon’s eldest son, Lanny.

Bud Gagnon’s new Wedgewood Pharmacy opened on November 12, 1955. The building was torn down in 1972 and a brick bank built in its place, which today is Wells Fargo at the corner of NE 86th Street.

Changes in shopping patterns in the 1960s and 1970s

When a big new Pay ‘n Save store (present site of Rite-Aid) opened across the street in 1960,  the Gagnons found they could still compete in the pharmacy business because of their personal service and home delivery.   But by the 1970s, having reached the age of 50, Bud found that he was growing weary of being roused during the night to make up and deliver emergency prescriptions.   Then too, there had begun to be changes in society which affected the Wedgwood neighborhood businesses.  With more cars and greater mobility, people drove to shopping centers rather than coming on foot to neighborhood stores as they had done in the 1950s.   During the day, Gagnon’s store was quiet; the one-car, housewife-at-home Wedgwood households of the 1950s had become two-car, dual-income families, and there were fewer daytime customers.

The Wells Fargo bank at the corner of NE 86th Street is the former site of Bud Gagnon's Wedgewood Pharmacy.

The Wells Fargo bank at the corner of NE 86th Street is the former site of Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy.

In 1972 the Gagnons were approached by University Federal Savings which wanted to establish a branch in Wedgwood and inquired about buying Gagnon’s property.   It seemed the perfect opportunity for Bud to get free of owning and operating his business, so he sold the store and went to work as an employee of another pharmacy.   The Wedgewood Pharmacy building was torn down and the brick bank at 8517 35th Ave NE, presently occupied by Wells Fargo, was built in its place.   It was the end of the era of 1950s-style drugstore service and soda-fountain social life in Wedgwood.

Note on the extra “e:”  After “Wedgwood” caught on as the neighborhood name, some businesses spelled it with and some without the extra “e.”  Today the Wedgewood Estates Apartments is the only place where that spelling is still used.   The City Clerk’s map of the neighborhood also spells it “Wedgewood.”

Sources:

Wells Fargo at 8517 35th Ave NE

Wells Fargo bank at 8517 35th Ave NE on the former site of Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy.

Interviews with Bud & Dolly Gagnon in 1995.  I (Valarie) originally wrote this article for the paper edition of the Wedgwood Community Council newsletter in that year, and have reprinted the article here on this blog with updates.  See remarks from Gagnon family members in the comments below.

Photos of pages from the Wedgwood Echo Community Club newspaper, October 1955.

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for northeast neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington.
This entry was posted in businesses, name of the neighborhood and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy

  1. Corinne Dumas says:

    I would just like to say Thank You for remembering my parents, Bud and Dolly Gagnon and their store, Wedgewood Pharmacy. We grew up in that awesome store just down the street from our home. My dad loved people, loved the store and the community. How innocent a time when we delivered prescriptions in the “pill wagon”! Although my parents and oldest brother Lanny have passed away and my brother Kyle and I no longer live in Wedgewood, It will always be home to us. The Halloween window painting contest for the kids along the businesses were a special memory. It was a great place to grow up. Thank you again so much. I will share the article with my kids so they know a little more about Grandpa. Corinne Dumas (Gagnon)

  2. Kye Gagnon says:

    Growing up in Wedgwood with great neighbors and family values is the true American dream. I miss that and love the people that are still part of that — too bad it’s becoming just a dream. .

  3. Kyle, thank you so much for commenting! I am sure you know that I interviewed your parents in 1995 and I was so thankful that they were willing to share their memories. What a great family legacy you have! And the life of the Wedgwood community continues to be vibrant. Although there is no more window-painting for Halloween, in recent years the Wedgwood Community Council has helped organize an annual business-district trick or treat at Halloween.

  4. Betty Robertson says:

    Great article! Brings back fond memories!

  5. Rochelle Detert says:

    What a great article, thank you for writing it! My mother worked at both Wedgewood Pharmacies in the ’50’s and ’60’s. The Gagnons were wonderful people. I will never forget that the day of my mother’s funeral, Bud Gagnon, closed the Pharmacy and the reader board out front paid tribute to her. In the 1950’s and ’60’s, Wedgwood was a small close knit community.

  6. I am so glad you enjoyed the article! The Wedgewood Pharmacy was one of several small, locally-owned stores in the 1950s. Most of these, including McGillivray’s and McVicar’s, went out of business in the early 1970s due to changes in society and in the business environment. That is why Wedgwood now has mostly big-box-chain stores and banks instead of smaller shops. It is still a struggle today, for any small business to be able to make a go of it.

  7. Corinne (Gagnon) Dumas says:

    My brother Kyle and I are really enjoying the nice comments about our parents store. It was a small town feel with fond memories. I remember a few of the ladies that worked at the store. I was pretty young and very shy, but it was a store with loyal employees, like a family. Our dad loved the people. I think it was his favorite part of owning a store. He always had a story, always had someone to visit with. We miss him. Thank you.

  8. Community support and activism still goes on in Wedgwood — the Wedgwood Community Council is actively working with city departments to increase pedestrian safety on the streets and improve zoning regulations in the business district so that it will be possible to have more small shops.

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