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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.