Round Corner Drug, Cheese Shoppe closes

Downtown business was longest-running pharmacy in state

Another slice of downtown’s history is now history.

Wednesday evening’s closing of Round Corner Pharmacy and its Cheese & Salami Shoppe, 801 Mass., means the business surrendered its standing as the longest-running pharmacy in the state.

Owner Tom Wilcox, whose health concerns had diminished his time behind the store’s familiar back counter, has sold his pharmacy files to Walgreen’s. The fate of the iconic building — built in 1866, eight years after a pharmacy first opened at the corner — remains unclear.

But for Wilcox’s 23 employees, 400 pharmacy customers and even more people who might stop by just to look, pick up a candy bar or grab a sandwich, the end of an era arrived with a certain end.

“I feel sorry for Lawrence, because it’s losing a piece of its history,” said Bob Blank, who’s been getting his prescriptions filled at Round Corner for more than 50 years. “It will leave a void downtown, for sure. For a lot of people.”

Jean Snedeger will be refilling prescriptions somewhere else for the first time in 63 years, now that Round Corner is gone. And while she’ll survive, she’ll miss Wilcox’s personal approach, a way of doing business that’s been commonplace for decades inside the familiar brick building with the curved front.

“Everything was always on a personal basis — with a handshake and a promise — and I just liked that,” she said, thinking back through the years. “The personal part is going out. Everything is a big box anymore. I just prefer the hometown touch.”

Many of his customers knew that Wilcox might exit the business, and were supportive Wednesday of his decision to close. Just last month he’d acknowledged that he was in discussions to possibly sell the business.

“At some point you have to say enough’s enough,” he said at the time.

Chuck Fisher, whose family owned and operated Round Corner from 1943 to 1975, noted that the original pharmacy on the site had in fact survived Quantrill’s Raid, which sacked Lawrence in 1863.

Downtown’s latest shifts — including the closing of Arensberg Shoes, Silver Works and More, The Palace gift shop and upcoming shuttering of Blue Heron furnishings — may just indicate a shift of the central business district into an entertainment hub.

“Maybe this is the passing of an age,” Fisher said. “It’s the changing business.”

Karen Parker, who has worked as Wilcox’s executive assistant for nearly 10 years, said that a liquidation sale would be conducted from July 13 to 23.

She spent much of Wednesday answering phones, talking with customers and bracing for the closure. She expects the reality to set in during the coming weeks.

“It’s been here forever,” Parker said. “The customers, they’re sad. They hate to see this go. But they also have a loyalty to Tom. They understand.”