Anderson and Retailers and Regional News and Madison County and Specialty stores and Retail and Real Estate & Retail

Landmark Anderson drugstore closes after 80 years

December 20, 2012

Times have changed since Howard Gwinn opened his drugstore at Fifth Street and Madison Avenue in Anderson.

That was in 1932, when Gwinn's was famous for its soda fountain and hand-made ice cream — "the rich, full-cream, cholesterol-filled kind," said his daughter, Judi Cunningham. People would park along Madison Avenue for curb service, get a cup of coffee or a burger and chat with friends.

But that was more than 80 years ago.

Wednesday night, the drugstore closed its doors for good.

"It's just time to move on to a new chapter," said Jim Hoffman, who took over for Gwinn more than 30 years ago.

He's spent much of the past week fielding phone calls from longtime customers — some angry, some reminiscent. Wednesday morning, Hoffman made his rounds, breaking the news to some in person.

"Gwinn's has never been just a store, but a family in the neighborhood," he told The Herald Bulletin. "They're crying, and I'm just trying to keep it together, myself." His eyes watered and he gritted his teeth.

The store's namesake, Howard Gwinn, worked as a teacher and a Chicago-based Walgreens pharmacist before opening shop in Anderson in 1932.

He made $11 that first day, his son-in-law, John Cunningham, said.

For a while, Gwinn and his wife lived in the apartment above the store. But since it was open from 7 a.m. to midnight every day, he almost had to, Judi said.

"It was Dad's life," she said. If the shop was closed, "People would call Dad, and he'd go down there or take it (prescriptions) to their house."

That's along with his sidekick, Denzil Regenold, who worked there from after World War II until he retired in 1990, she said.

Madison Avenue was the first of an eight-store chain, she said, though all but the original have closed.

It's also the one a 6-year-old Hoffman would walk by on his way to Little League from his house, only five blocks away.

"I can remember coming in here and getting Cokes," he said. "That was a big thing, going into the drug store to get a fountain Coke."

After Wednesday, the drugstore's prescription records, files and most employees will transfer to the Walgreens store at 14th and Jackson streets, he said. Hoffman still owns the building, but hasn't made plans for it yet.

"It has been really great, being able to serve the neighborhood I grew up in," Hoffman said. "I have had the opportunity to serve old schoolteachers, people I delivered papers to and folks that have watched me grow up."

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