Pharmacists were not always relegated to work at the back of a CVS store behind aisles of cold and sinus pills, racks of greeting cards and lipstick displays. Many once were known as prominent neighborhood business owners, dispensing made-on-the-spot remedies, medical advice and drinks from the soda fountain. A new, museum exhibit dealing with the role once played by the corner drug store in American business and civic life features the story and vintage merchandise of George A. Simmons, who for sixty years operated Colonial Drug in Highland Park.
The exhibit opens to the public on Sunday, Nov. 4 at Heritage Square Museum in Montecito Heights, where a replica of the Colonial Drug has been built on part of the grounds and houses some of the drug bottles, light fixtures and even soda fountain that Simmons had amassed during his career.
Simmons, who was born in Latvia, had worked as an assistant to a traveling doctor of sorts in the Russian Far East and sold opium from a pharmacy in Shanghai before he and his wife arrived in Highland Park after World War I, according to a video on the exhibit. Inside the former Highland Park Bank building, Simmons opened Colonial Drug at the corner of what is now Figueroa Street and Avenue 57. The exhibit, titled Colonial Drug, George A. Simmons, Proprietor, focuses on the evolution of the drug store business from one dominated by independent druggists like Simmons to the retail and online chains of today.
The museum collection is based on the thousands of pieces of merchandise, ranging from patent medicine and cosmetics, that Simmons purchased over the years and stored in the basement of his Highland Park home. Simmons died in 1974 but his family kept his items and has worked to create a memorial in his honor, which will open this weekend in the former of the Colonial Drug exhibit.