When I called Jodi Lare At the Watermont Pharmacy after hearing from a reader, Terri Hicks, that the pharmacy was closing, Lare's mother chimed in the background.
“Terri! I know all of her family. Her cousins, second cousins, her aunt and uncle.”
That’s just the kind of pharmacy Watermount is. Pharmacists and technicians had orders waiting for customers at the counter because they knew almost every face that walked in the door.
And on Friday, nearly every customer got a goodbye hug.
That’s because after nearly 52 years in business, the Ellicott City shop is closing. Wednesday is the last day to pick up prescriptions. The store will continue to sell off sundry items until March 8.
“There have been a lot of tears. A lot of goodbyes,” Lare’s mother, Audrey Dagold said in the store Wednesday. Dagold and her husband, Donald, started the business in 1961. Lare began working as a clerk when she was a kid.
“Then I went pharmacy school,” she said, taking over as the pharmacist in 1993. “I worked side by side with my dad until he got sick, and was no longer able to work the last year of his life.” Donald Dagold died in 1997.
The phones didn’t seem to stop ringing Wednesday, and a steady stream of customers were in and out, picking up prescriptions, laughing, hugging, and recounting stories about the “old days.”
“We’ve been hanging out here for quite a while,” said Burke Barrett, who’s been going to the pharmacy for 40 years. He was sitting at a card table – a staple gathering place at the pharmacy – with Albert Frederick, who’d been a customer since Watermont opened, and Joe Lough, whose father built the building.
“In a world that changes so fast -- so rapidly it can be scary -- this is a nice little enclave,” Lough said.
Audrey Dagold referred to Barrett, Frederick and Lough as The Coffee Guys. “They came in every morning," she said, although "one of them, Mr. Collins, isn’t here.”
The “Guys” all stressed one thing about Watermont -- family. In fact, Lare, Dagold, Hicks, everyone who had something to say about the pharmacy said the same thing: “They’re like family.”
“I’ve seen people having babies,” Lare said, then those babies and, in Dagold’s case, the babies’ babies, have become customers. “And unfortunately,” Lare said, “when people pass away it affects us like losing a member of our family.”
Now that family is losing its pharmacy.
“Times have changed, the industry has changed.” She declined to expand on what led to the store’s closure, but to say, “It just was not working, operating as an independent pharmacy any more. I don’t want to blame this or blame that, it just happened.”
Lare and some of her staff will be moving to the Safeway Pharmacy at the Long Gate Shopping Center beginning Friday. All prescriptions from Watermont have been transferred to that pharmacy.
Audrey Dagold is retiring. She said she doesn’t have any solid plans, but has kids, grandkids and a network of friends she met working at the pharmacy to keep her active.
Watermont managed to hold on to a charm that’s hard to find in many businesses and has inspired dozens of Patch readers to recount memories on Facebook.
Beth Mergehenn Clark said Watermont influenced her decision to become a clinical pharmacist.
Joni Pailer Rennie remembered the Watermont Gang - "Not a bad gang. Just Howard guys who wore army jackets to look cool." She married one of those cool guys 42 years ago.
Craig Woods worked at the pharmacy in the 70s. He remembered working the lunch counter and delivering prescriptions in a VW Bug -- the pharmacy sill makes deliveries.
“People say to me ‘When I walk through the doors, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time,’” Lare said. “I take that as a compliment."
The soda fountain hasn’t mixed a malt for a while now, but the store did use a rotary phone until recently, Audrey Dagold said. “It took us a while to come into the 20th century,” she said, catching herself.
“I mean the 21st century.”
This article has been updated to indicate the store will continue to sell non-pharmaceutical items until March 8.