Pharmacy tradition comes to abrupt halt

“It was a real shock,” Phyllis Frovold says, echoing the thoughts of many of North St. Paul Pharmacy’s patrons. The 78-year-old Frovold wasn’t just a customer; she was an employee — for the past six years and for a several-year stint a little longer ago — 50 years or so.

Frovold, who spent several decades as a school secretary betweentimes, returned to work at the pharmacy after her “retirement” from the school job. She says pharmacist Mike Burns “just found other things to do” and did warn her of the closure of the drugstore before he locked the doors Dec. 30. However, she says, it still is a shock to think that North St. Paul is now without a downtown pharmacy. “It’s extremely difficult for a small pharmacy to make it when there are all these big chains out there,” she says. “I loved that pharmacy — it’s been such a part of my life. We’re just losing so much in North St. Paul.”

Tracy Luther, who finalized purchase of the pharmacy building Jan. 6, says Burns was a partner with a corporation to run the pharmacy. Luther suspects perhaps the firm made the closure decision.

Luther says he understood that the pharmacy was expected to move into the under-construction North St. Paul medical building off Highway 36, but City Manager Wally Wysopal says he hasn’t heard anything about that. Neither the Berwalds, who are constructing the building, nor Burns could be reached for comment before the Review’s deadline for this story.

As a business owner — of Tracy Luther Auctions across the street — Luther is aware that the pharmacy, its cards, gifts and sundries, helped draw people downtown, where they might glance around and see other places they wanted to stop.

He said his goal now is first to see if he can find another pharmacist to open a drug store in the building. “I will make it as easy as possible for another pharmacy to go into the building. If not a pharmacy, then some kind of a retail business.” Another possibility would be a convenience store, which he thinks would be welcome downtown.

The contents of the store, including the shelving and equipment, were thrown into the purchase and all the over-the-counter medicines are being returned to the distributor. Other merchandise will be liquidated soon.

Regarding his thoughts when he first signed the purchase agreement, Luther said, “I had planned to look at options for the building while

the pharmacy continued to rent the building and wait for the new

medical center to open.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “So much for that business plan.”

Luther said his long-term “dream” was to attract someone to open up “a New York-style deli with great meats. There’s a little green space in the back of the building that would make a nice little patio that could have a couple of tables where people could eat outside in the summer.” He could also envision a coffee shop in the building. But with the demise of Keindel’s and the dissolving of the pharmacy business, he has, at least for the moment, set his dreams aside.

Frovold, who says she may have to find something to do with her time now that she’s unwillingly “retired” again, says, “It’s the end of an era. And it’s sad.”

The Berwalds and Mike Burns did not return calls in time for publication.

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