WOODSTOCK – During the past 113 years, generations of area families have visited the Walton & Smoot Pharmacy to pick up prescriptions and sit at its 1960s-era lunch counter to chat and enjoy a coffee or a milkshake. That all changes on Oct. 23, when the business closes its doors forever.
Pharmacy owners Charles French and Nancy Miller recently announced the closing, which Miller said has to do with a number of changing factors, including the influence of insurance companies and mail-order pharmacies.
When asked what he hoped the store's legacy to the community will be, French said: “That we have met the needs of the community for medicine.”
Long-time customer Barbara Wright, of Woodstock, has visited Walton & Smoot for the past 50 years to pick up needed items and prescriptions.
“I was really sad to hear the news," Wright said. "It’s a historical place we are losing. When I was working at Blue Bell and then Wrangler, I even came in for lunch.”
For 67 of those 113 years in business, members of three generations of the French family have worked behind the counter at Walton & Smoot, including Miller, who is Charles French’s niece.
Charles French graduated as a pharmacist in 1973 and came home to work with his father Millson French, who in 1952 took over 50 percent ownership in the pharmacy when he bought out George Clower.
Over the years, Charles French's wife Deborah, a co-owner of the business, said that many people who needed a prescription were given their medication, quietly and without fanfare, even if they could not pay. She said she recalls one time watching Miller work with a mother who came in with a young child with a fever. The mother did not have any money.
“Here you go, your child needs this,” Deborah French said of the conversation she overheard.
“It’s been blood, sweat and tears but a blessing,” she said about the business.
Donna Lutz has worked at the pharmacy for the past 47 years with all three generations of the French family.
She recalled Millson French having an apothecary bottle that at times over the years would hold a red ring.
“I asked Mr. (Millson) French about that,” Lutz said. He told her the ring belonged to a customer.
“He said: ‘I am sure it is not a ruby, just red glass, but when he needs money he comes in. I give him money and I hold this ring. When he pays, I give it back’,” Lutz recalled Millson French explaining.
When Lutz was told the news of the closing, she asked if she could have the apothecary's bottle as a reminder of Millson French.
Charles French has also been known to come to a customer's aid. The family shared a story about Becky Hoover, Donna Lutz's mother who was the business' bookkeeper, demanding an explanation from Charles French about a $100 debt.
“The man said he would send me a check,” Charles French said, laughed.
Lutz added with a laugh: “And my mom is still waiting on that check.”
“That is what this store has been about, a community store,” Charles French said.
After Oct. 23, prescriptions will be transferred to the CVS store at 221 W. Reservoir Road in Woodstock. Mowery Orchard farm market in Woodstock will be carrying the Lorann flavoring oils and baking ammonia after the business closes.
“This is a huge thing for our customers,” Miller said.
The French family wants the community to know that even though the pharmacy is closing, they will still worry about their customers, who they said they will always consider family.
In 1906, Clyde Walton and Dr. James Smoot bought a drug store owned by Lin Irwin that was located at the corner of Main and Court streets in Woodstock.
They changed the name of the store to Walton & Smoot. The drug store was on the first floor and the Irwin Opera house was on the second floor. Walton & Smoot then moved to the Magruder building on North Main Street.
In 1935, H.A. Moore and George Clower purchased the store from Smoot, who was then the sole owner. Millson French, a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia, owned half of the business when he purchased Clower’s share in July 1952. Later, Millson French would become sole owner.
He moved the store in 1962 to its current home, the former site of the Woodstock Hotel.
-- Information provided by the French family