Reader recollections of Wise's Drug Store

Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 1:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 1:34 p.m.

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Combining compassion with fun and good taste

There is only one Drug Store in Gainesville that I will consider going to for 2 reasons. That store is Wise’s. One is personal ... I was in the 7th grade at GHS, down the street from Wise’s on University Avenue where the Ayers building parking lot is. To be kind the food at the school cafeteria was poor. It was rumored that it was government surplus. How else would you explain having rice, potatoes and pasta in the same meal? On rainy days as a treat my Mom would give me money so I could go to Wise’s for lunch. I always had the same thing, Grilled Cheese Sandwich and a Chocolate Malted Milk. There were two guys there cooking the food, kind of like Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. They would chant, quip and flip the food, each order was a spectacle. I still order Grilled Cheese when I go to Wise’s as the memories and taste are still precious.

The second reason has to do with Joe Wise, the owner of Wise’s. My Dad was overseas in the African campaign of World War II. One day my Mom got a telegram from him saying that he was coming home and would be in Washington, D.C., in a day or two. For some reason the allotment hadn't come in that month and Mom did not have the money for the train trip to Washington, DC. (no airport then). We had no friends in Gainesville as we hadn't lived there even a year yet. Mom called up the only person she knew Joe Wise. She told him her predicament. He didn't blanch but said meet me at 10 p.m. at the Drug Store. He had $500 for her - no questions, just have a good trip. The train station is where Santa Fe Community College is across from Central Office Supply. The next day Mom in her heels, hat and suit boarded the train. There were crowds of soldiers going somewhere. The only people allowed to buy tickets that day were soldiers and their wives. One GI took on the job as Mom's husband while she bought her ticket. The train was so crowded that part of the way she had to stand up. The train didn't have air conditioning, so the soot came in and gave everyone a coating of ashes. But Mom was there in Washington, D.C., when my Dad came to pick her up. Thanks to Joe Wise. A store that combines compassion with fun and good taste gets my vote.

- Mary Thompson Green

PKY Class of '57

Wise photo
Buddy Wise is a member of PKY Class of 1957. He is also a PKY "Lifer." Fellow classmates met at the lunch counter to plan our 50th class reunion in the 2007. Buddy Wise is second from right.
- Submitted by Sally Woodworth Canfield

A must stop on the way back from school

I have many fond memories of Wise's Drug Store. It was a must stop on the way home from the old Buchholz Jr. High school. Myself, Bob Roundtree, Jerry Douglas, Bennett Ford and Mike Hedges couldn't wait for our cherry coke and dounut.

- Randy Shadburn

Recollections of a one-time delivery boy

I was an evening "delivery boy" for Wise's from 1956 to 1962, during my high school and college years in Gainesville. My brother, Dave, was also involved for a while; and then Stan Livengood and I shared the shift, also working on Sundays. Stan still lives in Gainesville.

Ulysses Ellis worked during the day for many years in the same capacity, being hired way before my time. He passed away about seven years ago. ... A great guy.

The evening pharmacist in those days was Leslie Lee Threat. What a character! He taught me how to read prescriptions (and a lot of other stuff!). I got to the point where I could read doctor's handwriting better than some pharmacists (I became an engineer!). "Dr. Street" said he was never sick a day in his life ... and died rather suddenly at age 60 in 1966. He was sorely missed.

Every night at closing (10 p.m) Mr. Wise (Joseph C.) would come in to check how everything went for the evening; he was the last person to leave. His oldest son, "Joe, Jr.", became a pharmacist and worked in the store and at the 4th Avenue pharmacy (I think), but later went into real estate. The next son, Edgar (Buddy), who is my age, had started college at UF in engineering but later transferred to pharmacy. He, as you know, eventually took over the business, spending much of his time at the main store. I remember his youngest brother, Larry, who was only a little boy, would sometimes come in with Mr. Wise (and Mrs. Wise) at closing time. Now, of course, he is the pharmacist at the 4th Avenue store. There is also a son, Bbobby (between Larry and Buddy), but I don't know if he went into pharmacy.

Marie Jones was in charge of the "soda fountain" for many years. After she retired, I had an opportunity to "take her to lunch" at the store when I was visiting in Gainesville. She was a great lady. She eventually went to live with her daughter, Carolyn, in Detroit, where she passed away about a year ago.

Mr. Wise's partner was Mr. Ray Ogilvie (also a pharmacist) for many years. They had a falling out in the early '60s involving integration at the soda fountain. The counter was closed for several weeks, but mr. Wise arranged to have it reopened. Mr. Ogilvie broke off the partnership and never set foot in the store again. It was too bad ... "Dr. Ray" was a decent man, but integration was not part of his makeup.

I remember when the store moved to its present location, after only moving from a few doors away. All of us got involved in moving drugs and sundries from the old location. There were doors leading directly into the west side of the store from the lobby of the Florida Theater. People would enter the store that way from the theater for refreshments at the soda fountain (in those days, the fountain was open in the evenings). Don't know when the theater doors disappeared.

One of the pharmacists that I got to know was George Little. He went (back) to school at UF and became a medical doctor, and practiced in Gainesville for years. Many doctors and other G'ville dignitaries would frequent the pharmacy area, which gave me great "exposure" to people and happenings in the community.

About six years ago, Clancy Strock, for Reminisce Magazine, wrote an article about downtown Wise's. Mr. Strock had moved to Newberry in semi-retirement and decided to visit Wise's to see for himself the things he had heard about this wonderful drug store and its legendary soda fountain. It was a great story!

Leigh (my wife) and I visited Wise's (for lunch, of course) when I came back to Gainesville for my 50th high school reunion in 2006. We chatted with Buddy and a few of the people working there. Buddy Wise is a true gentleman; and I know he is not taking this necessary transition lightly. I wish him and his extended family the very best, and I hope that the community that has been affected comes through OK, too.

Bill Hinkley, Centerville (Dayton), Ohio

A grandson's tribute

I started working part time as a clerk at the Wise's on 4th Ave last year. I also happen to be Larry Wise's son, Nathan.

This company and the downtown store in particular have always been an important part of my life, but you never really fully appreciate something until you realize you are not going to have it anymore.

I view the downtown store and the soda fountain as a tribute to the memory of my grandfather. He died before I was born, so I never had the privilege of meeting him. I can honestly say though, that through getting to work at the company he founded and having been able to spend some time at this store he worked so much at, that I know him pretty well. I've gotten to know my grandfather by viewing the way my dad and uncle run this business. His memory lives on in the compassion, care, and gratitude that Larry and Buddy give to their employees and customers.

I've learned from them that success is not measured in dollars and cents but how you treat people. It tears me up inside that we have to lose this store, but I understand situation and know that there really aren't any other options. His legacy will live on, as will the business, but my heart goes out to the employees and customers of the soda fountain. They are irreplaceable.

- Nathan Wise

'A great stop after a movie'

As a soda jerk at one of the "competing" soda fountains in Gainesville in the '60s, it is a poignant moment to hear of the closing of the Wise's lunch counter and soda fountain.

I had the privilege of being a soda jerk for my dad, a third generation pharmacist in Gainesville, at City Drug Company on the north side of the courthouse square throughout my late junior high and high school years. The Wise's location was a great stop after a movie at the Florida Theatre, being much closer than the 3 – 4 block walk uptown to City Drug.

Throughout my childhood the drug stores in town had a close relationship with each other. It used to be the stores rotated which store would be open on Sunday to provide a pharmacy for any emergency needs for prescriptions that came up on the Sabbath. The pharmacy would stay open for a portion of the day to accommodate the needs.

Great memories from those days of a lunch, Coke, milkshake or ice cream from the soda fountain.

- Rev. Lauris G. "Laurie" Vidal, Senior Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church

'Thanks for the memories'

Lunch at Wise's was a rite of passage for our three sons (27, 23 and 18) and many of the other children I have cared for thoughout the years. We would visit a couple of times each year, but always during the week before school started. The younger children had to sit at a table with me, but if you were old enough to manage a counter stool without goofing around or falling off, you got to sit with the older kids. I can't tell you how happy I was when the youngest could sit at the counter - it meant I could, too!

Our youngest just turned 18 and this morning when I asked him if he remembered Wise's, he said, "Don't tell me it closed!" When I said it was closing at the end of the month, he reqested one last lunch of his favorite - an egg salad sandwich and a milkshake (so thick that your cheeks nearly meet in the middle of your mouth as you suck on the straw!) He's the son who ate there the most - at least once a week during the three years he attended First Presbyterian Preschool.

I was looking forward to granddaughter Lily's rite of passage, but at the tender age of one, she won't be able to fully appreciate the family history and memories.

Wise family - thanks for the memories from the Hamblen Family!

- Stefanie Samara Hamblen

A great pharmacy

I have been a Wise's customer for over 5 years. I go to the 4th Avenue location. I even know some of the staff by name and they know me by sight. I love them and they are great. I am sorry to see the downtown location close. I have been to the downtown location a couple of times. Wises is a great pharmacy.

- Janet Bailey

Service after hours

The main memory I have of Wise's is that when I had my children in '62, '64, and '68, it was the only place we could get prescriptions after hours. That was such a wonderful service!

The other thing is that they were a couple of doors down from the Florida Theatre and we could go there for sodas, etc. before or after the movie.

- Linda H. Avery

So sad!

Wise's has been a piece of history for so long. I had my travel agency located on the corner of West University Ave. and Main Street for 13 years, now over 13 years ago Excel Travel Inc.

On no-school days my two young sons loved to go and eat with me at Wise's and order off of the menu

at the counter, there was not another place that could offer them a piece of history of days gone by like Wise's counter. A fun time for all of us with such special memories, and over the years the counter ladies got to watch them grow up.

Sorry to see them go. Can't they recreate Wise's counter someplace else in town?

- Carol

Greatly missed!

I just want to say they will be greatly missed. I eat there frequently with my dad, step-mom, and husband. I love how when you walk into Wise's you feel like you are stepping back in time. I love the smell when you walk into the store and the people who work there.

I am sad to see them go! I will greatly miss them.

- Michelle Danisovszky

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