Food & Drink Same as it ever was

Olmos Pharmacy may sell on eBay, but its customers receive the same good service they did in 1938

My dining companion arrived a few minutes after I had settled into one of the dozen stools that line the lunch counter at Olmos Pharmacy, which has stood at the corner of Hildebrand and McCullough since 1938.

Locals from the Olmos Park and Monte Vista neighborhoods have patronized the little landmark drugstore since a bottle of Coca-Cola sold for 5 cents, young and old alike strolling (or strollering) in on a summer's afternoon for a self-prescribed chocolate milkshake to beat the oppressive heat. But this was my first visit, spurred by news that the pharmacy is for sale on eBay. Some may wonder why this San Antonio native had never visited Olmos Pharmacy, but one could also wonder why many Olmos Park-ers have never been spotted inside Ruben's Café, formerly Elizondo's on the South Side.

Pharmacist Philip Dodd stands in Olmos Pharmacy, which his family has owned since 1991. A rare breed, the pharmacy still provides home delivery of prescriptions. It is listed for sale on eBay for $500,000. (Photo by Michael Cary)

However, my dining companion had a much more interesting confession: During the 30 years since he relocated to San Antonio with his parents, he had never eaten a chicken-fried steak until he ordered one last week at the Olmos Pharmacy. He thought it was made with chicken, but more on that later.

Not much has changed since L.D. "Doc" Gilmore built what was called the Gilmore Pharmacy 67 years ago. He already owned the Laurel Heights Pharmacy, also near Olmos Park Estates, but he had two sons and wanted to leave something for each of them. He commissioned local architect Atlee Ayers to design the Art Moderne façade - complete with keyhole windows - of the little pharmacy.

Gilmore's eldest son died during World War II when his ship was sunk and, in 1944, "Doc" sold Gilmore Pharmacy to Richard Sandidge, who changed its name to Olmos Pharmacy. Someone on Sandidge's watch rearranged the Gilmore Drug letters on the old clock above the neon entryway sign. Look closely and one can see that the Spanish word for elm tree was misspelled in the phrase "Courtesy of Olomos Drug." It just adds charm to the place.

In 1970, George Stone bought Olmos Pharmacy and kept things the way they had always been, continuing to fill prescriptions and deliver them to customers in their homes. He sold $1.67 million in merchandise, medicine, lunches, and milkshakes in 1988 and withstood the competition of a nearby Walgreen's in 1989. Feeling attached to the place, he stayed on for a while as a pharmacist after he sold the place to John Dodd in 1991.

Dodd's son, pharmacist Philip Dodd, attended St. Anthony Catholic High School in 1987; he liked to sneak off campus occasionally to grab a hamburger and milkshake at Olmos Pharmacy and then stealth his way back to school. "I knew about the place before my dad bought it," he says.

Philip Dodd, who works for a pharmacy chain in Dallas, says he was the one who thought of listing the pharmacy for sale on eBay. His father wants to retire from the business and the family would like to sell Olmos Pharmacy to someone who will keep the business intact. That means preserving home delivery of prescriptions, customer charge accounts, and the neighborly atmosphere of the well-patronized drugstore soda fountain.

Dodd says small drugstore operations are holding their own against the chain stores. "Olomos" Drug's customer base has remained fiercely loyal, he says, and he was stunned at the positive response to news that the pharmacy is for sale. The Dodd's are asking $500,000 for the business. The building, valued at just over $50,000, is owned by M.D. Pharmacy, Inc., and is not for sale, but for lease.

My chicken-fried steak's deep-fried crust was a bit too thick. I followed the Southern tradition of pouring a cup of white gravy over the top to soften it up. I've had plenty of early-morning chicken-fried steaks at the now-defunct Bob Jones Restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue, so I know what to do.

Declaring himself more of a "fish and chips" type of guy, my dining companion ignored the white gravy and ordered a cup of fresh picante sauce. It was another historical moment at the Olmos Pharmacy as he smeared the salsa onto his chicken-fried steak. He ate the whole thing, sans gravy.

By Michael Cary


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