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If these walls could talk: 103 S. Ohio

March 9, 2013

103 S. Ohio Street in Culver in 1935. The house is visible at left, with the old Osborn Hotel across Jefferson Street to its right (it was torn down in 1991).

Continuing our "virtual" journey through the history of various Culver buildings, we're still wandering around notable spots west of Culver's downtown, before heading to another part of town entirely. And, since we strolled by the Culver Post Office last time out, we're now at the door of what is today Culver's only locally-based (if not locally-owned) pharmacy, CVS, at 103 S. Ohio Street.

A great many Culverites, myself included, have to check ourselves lest we call the place "Hook's," its moniker when the doors first opened in 1974. It was not, of course, always so. For most of the 20th century, the property was home to private residences, once of which, according to Elisabeth (Zechiel) Davis, had been the house of her uncle, Jesse Zechiel, who in the 1920s and `30s operated the Cloverleaf Dairy just west across the alley, in the building today occupied by Hammer's Garage.

A varierty of names were associated with 103 S. Ohio prior to Hook's arriving, including in 1960 dentist John Oldham (whose practice was in the basement of the NIPSCO building at Main and Washington Streets; Oldham didn't stay in Culver many years, practicing elsewhere in Indiana before retiring to Georgia prior to his deaeth in 2005). In 1961, Jesse Lore was listed as living there, and in 1964, Harold Eustis. Interestingly, the 1974 Culver phone directory lists the address as home to both Samuel Barnett and Hook's Pharmacy! The latter was presumably a later addition to the phone book that year, the store's first in Culver.

In many ways, the saga of Hook's and its later incarnations is a microcosm of the story of the American small business in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Hook's Drugs was founded as one pharmacy in October, 1900, by pharmacist John A. Hook in Indianapolis. A second store eventually gave way to a large chain of Hook's pharmacies across the Hoosier State. It was ironic, then, that what had started as a small, neighborhood business would play the role of something of a corporate monolith when word spread in 1973 and 1974 that a Hook's branch was planning to open in Culver.

Kay Tusing remembers her husband, Ron, traveling to Indianapolis as word spread, to attempt to talk Hook's executives into finding another locale for their drug store, which at the time must have seemed like a "big box" store compared to the two competing pharmacies on Main Street at the time: Tusing's own Mr. T's (the former Culver City Drugs), on the west side of South Main, and the McKinnis Pharmacy (formerly Rector's) on the east side of North Main. Both locally-owned businesses had operated at their respective sites for much of the 20th century, and there was little doubt that, as the cliched Old Western catch-phrase goes, "This town ain't big enough for all of ya."

Surely changeing times and increased mobility had already taken a bite out of Tusing's and McKinnis' business, but the arrival of Hook's certainly had an impact, and the two eventually merged into a competing operation of similar size on Academy Road in 1977. All in all, their endeavor succeeded well enough, since Mr. T's -- even after the death of Rob McKinnis -- continued to draw a hefty local customer base into 1998, when Tusing himself passed away.

It's further ironic, then, that Hook's itself would fall victim to the trend of increasing corporatization in America.

The Rite Aid chain attempted a hostile takeover of Hook's, but was outbid in 1985 by the Kroger Company, though after about a year, the privately-held Hook’s-SupeRx took it on. Since the corporation had acquired New England-based Brooks Pharmacies in 1988, a chain of pharmacies operated under that name out east, though under the same ownership as Hook's. In 1994 Revco acquired Hook's, and Culver residents likely remember the big Hook's logo on the east side of the building on Ohio Street giving way to Revco's.

Revco itself once had over 2,500 stores under its belt and boasted over $2.2 billion dollars in sales. The interested reader may enjoy a visit to Wikipedia to learn all the trials and tribulations of Revco and Rite Aid (potential monopoly and so forth), but to make that long story short, eventually CVS Pharmacy purchased the Revco chain (which included the former Hook's stores) in June, 1997, closing a number of the stores.

Rhode Island-based CVS today is the second largest pharmacy chain in America (second to Walgreens), which will come as no shock to those stumbling into its stores at virtually every city in the Midwest. There are over 7,000 stores in 41 states and Puerto Rico.

Rumor has it Culver's CVS building is the oldest still operating in Indiana, which may also feel odd to those who still think of it as something of the "new kid" here. And corporate politics aside, the store has certainly been home to a number of well-known local folks as cashiers, pharmacists, and store managers. It's also fulfilled many a medicinal -- or just plain practical -- needs for Culverites, selling as it does a wide array of everything from cleaning supplies to snacks, office supplies to reading material.

In fact, your editor spent many happy childhood minutes (hours?) making use of its comic book rack and toy aisle, as my own children do today (well, minus the comics, nowadays). It was also a popular destination for neighborhood children to save their pennies for baseball cards, a candy bar, or other treat. For some reason, though, the manager in the 1980s insisted we wear both shoes and shirt, right in the middle of summer in Culver, unreasonable tyrant that he was!

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