Making It on Main Street

February 04, 1994

Put away the mourning wear: Retailing in the heart of Westminster may not be dead after all. The owners of Schmitt's Rexall Drugs on Main Street are relocating their pharmacy business to a larger building at the west end of the commercial district in the county seat. Their current location at 55 E. Main St. will remain open and will continue to sell food, liquor and other odds and ends. After a spate of business closings in Westminster's traditional commercial corridor during the past two years, this is a most welcome development.

By all rights, Schmitt's should be history. With Rite-Aid, Peoples Drug, Giant Food and Weis Market muscling into Westminster's pharmacy trade, Schmitt's has some formidable competition. It is located downtown, where parking is not always easy to come by. The store does not feature the wide aisles, the variety of merchandise or the bright displays of the chain stores. Because Schmitt's is small, it also can't offer some of the discount prices that the large pharmacies routinely offer or engage in big advertising and promotion campaigns.

What Schmitt's has aplenty is character. Founded about the turn of the century and first named Wehler and King, the operation is a throwback to a bygone era. Not only can customers get their prescriptions filled, they can purchase a soda for a nickel (as long as they spend $5 on drugs or other merchandise.) They can also deal with clerks and counter help who have worked at the store for more than two decades. These women know the customers' names, how they like their coffee, which of them likes mayonnaise on their hamburger. The store is still a stop for children on their way to the library or home, as it was for some of their grandparents.

Since purchasing the business in 1989, co-owners Forest Howell and Dennis Rosenbloom have been able to retain the old customer base and attract some new shoppers. They recognized that most of their customers live within a half-mile of the pharmacy and have been attentive to their needs. While the store's selection may be small, merchandise doesn't sit and collect dust on the shelves. If there is a lesson in all this, it is that locating a business on Main Street, any Main Street, can work as long as you know your niche and fill it well.

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