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Iconic Big State Pharmacy Shutters

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) - Thursday marked the end of an Irving tradition when the Big State Drug Store closed its doors after more than 65 years in the historic downtown area.

There were hugs — and more than a few moist eyes — as customers queued up at owner Brian Smith’s store for a last burger or pharmacy purchase. At times the wait was an hour or more for food.

Longtime customer Sybil Walker was among the hundreds who greeted Smith.  “You’ve been just such a mainstay for South Irving,” she said adding, “so thank you and God bless you and play a lot of golf!”

Big State opened in 1948 as drug store/soda fountain combos were all the rage. Smith, a pharmacist by trade, bought it in 1992. He didn’t have a background in food service; considered it “a nostalgia thing.”

“When I was a kid my brother and I would trade baseball cards at the soda fountain in the small town where I grew up; when I saw that,” Smith said, pointing to the restaurant area behind him, “it’s kind of what said, ‘This is where I want to work.’”

Besides a genuine soda fountain, a 50-year-old grill has lured customers back, according to Chef Leland Hallett. “This is cast iron and it’s really hard to find anything like this today… it makes a difference in the flavor of the meat.”

The half-a-century years old grill isn’t the only thing that’s seasoned. Customer Judy Lewis fondly remembers treats there while her mother was grocery shopping across the street.

“While mom was in the A&P my brother and I would come over here and have a nickel ice cream cone. And that was every Saturday,” said Lewis, who considered Thursday a “sad day.”

“It is just an icon here in Irving and we’ve lost so much, it’s just heartbreaking to be losing something like this.”

A loyal customer since the age of 15, Irving resident Bonnie Cole often bought what she called the store’s “whatnots,” or crafty items and knick-knacks.  Not that Cole didn’t also enjoy the grub…

“Just a good place to eat with your friends and come here,” said Cole.

Kirstin Woodruff first came to Big State because the small pharmacy could customize special medication for her son, who suffers from a genetic disorder. She said larger pharmacies were unable to cope with custom medicines.

“Because it’s not a standard expectation, I guess a larger don’t have a way to put that in their computer to make sense, it requires a more human touch involve with that. And I guess some of the smaller pharmacies can do that,” said Woodruff. She also likes the drug store’s personal touches.  “They know who you are when you walk in the door.” Plus, the pharmacy made home deliveries.

The food at Big State subsidized a full-service pharmacy for years, according to Smith. But rising health care costs finally tipped it into a losing proposition.

“Health care is going through a difficult period and the pharmacy kind of subsidized being able operate the fountain, and the margins have gone, just next to nothing in prescriptions and you have to—it’s turned into a volume business. We’re good and busy, but not busy enough to overcome that. It was a financial decision,” said Smith.
As an era passes into history, Smith told CBS 11 News he will miss not so much the loss of an iconic business as he will the relationships with the people who helped make it. Memories clearly run deep.

“The people, it’s…. you know it’s… sorry,” he said as his eyes welled with tears. “That’s why you do it.”

Most of Smith’s staff have found jobs with other businesses. Also, the soda fountain and grill may live on. Smith said he believes the landlord may keep both as a part of whatever comes next for the space.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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