By Cathy Ingalls, Albany Regional Museum board member
In Albany’s earlier days, downtown boasted a number of drug stores, but they all are gone now, having relocated to the city’s fringes.
One of the first belonged to David P. Mason, however before he opened his pharmacy in a building that no longer exists west of the former J.C. Penney’s store, he founded Mason’s Drug Store in 1868 in Scio.
To get supplies for his operation there on at least one occasion he reportedly walked on a rutted trail from Scio to Salem to pick up what he needed.
In the late 1870s, Mason moved to Albany, opening a new store, according to an article that appeared in a 1956 edition of the Democrat-Herald.
By 1891, he had so much business and not enough room so he joined with John Foshay and W.C. Tweedale to construct a building on First Avenue between Broadalbin and Ferry streets that is now the Wells Fargo bank parking lot.
Soon after construction, a wholesale drug business was added. In 1903 to improve customer service, Mason’s son Rockey employed his prize-winning racehorse to transport orders around Albany.
Rockey inherited his father’s business but sold the wholesale side to a Portland firm in 1941, continuing to operate the retail portion until he sold it to Gerald and Margaret Steele.
Into the mid-1950s, customers could still buy cigar snippers, pipe cleaners, something called Abyssinian Desert Companion, which was “Good for Man or Beast,” a sealing wax kit complete with stamp, quill toothpicks and even a “Dainty, nickel-plated Baby” screwdriver.
Hurley’s Drug Store in the 200 block of Southwest First Avenue also was open in what now houses Jordan Jewelers. It also was known as a community hub and the place to meet up with friends, said Katy Hurley, the daughter of owner Vincent Hurley.
In his store, Vincent installed a bench with a leather seat and back so people could wait for the city bus in comfort and out of inclement weather.
Hurley sold his business in 1961 to Don McMorris.
Probably the best-known drug store in Albany was one of the first in the Pay Less chain, opening in 1942 at 234 W. First Ave. in a section of the Flinn Block, which originally housed the First National Bank.
Leslie Downie managed the store at first but turned the operation over to Jack Kuhn and then to Jack Lammers. Lammers later started his own pharmacy at 203 Main St., which now is the parking lot for Valley Fire Control.
The store had a total of 2,700 square feet and a full basement. It was reported that the basement was needed for storage but when the Willamette River flooded it was not uncommon to find two feet of water down there.
In 1944, Pay Less purchased the Dawson Drug Store that opened in 1894 from Dell Alexander, and later the two stores were combined and a room added for a lunch counter, bringing the total square feet to 4,100. Coffee sold for 5 cents a cup, while turkey dinners were 49 cents.
The lunch counter was too much of a hassle so it was removed and the space turned over to regular merchandise and to a larger line of toys.
In 1954, assistant manager Jimmie Engle became the victim of a holdup. During the day, the robber secreted himself in the basement and as Jimmie placed the day’s receipts in a safe, he found himself looking down the barrel of a sawed off shotgun.
The robber locked Jimmie in a closet and then left the building with the money. Jimmie was able to kick down the door and call police.
The robber later was discovered in an Idaho penitentiary, where he was serving time for other holdups.
In the latter part of November 1959, Pay Less moved to the corner of Second Avenue and Broadalbin Street. The building had 7,000 square feet, a full basement and there was parking for 20 cars.
In 1967, the store took over an alley and a building in the back so it could add 20-foot by 125-foot garden shop and boost the parking to 73 spaces.
Pay Less would remain in that location, known today as Two Rivers Market, until moving to Waverly Drive. The chain store, which then included Thrifty Drug, was purchased by Rite Aid.