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Still your downtown drugstore

Vern’s Winslow Drug owner Jan Herren looks back on 50 years of dependable, friendly service.  - Julie Busch photo
Vern’s Winslow Drug owner Jan Herren looks back on 50 years of dependable, friendly service.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Vern’s maintains a loyal clientele after 50 years of service.

When Vern’s Winslow Drug appeared in 1956, Winslow was hardly the bustling urban oasis it is today.

“When we first moved here there were no sidewalks. There was only one strip of asphalt with dirt on either side,” said Jan Herren, drugstore owner.

Fast forward 50 years. Vern’s is still going strong where other local businesses have had shorter, less successful runs. Despite the draw of larger island pharmacies and variety stores, the downtown drug store retains its clientele.

At Vern’s one can have a watch fixed, weigh themselves on the store’s original scale, purchase clothing and souvenirs and browse Jan’s watercolor paintings, all while filling a prescription.

In a survey, a customer wrote Vern’s is dependable because it has maintained its small, hometown family atmosphere. Others say it’s the quick service or friendly atmosphere. Another references the store’s old-time feel.

Vern’s began with the man himself, Vern Herren, who graduated with a degree in pharmaceuticals in 1949 from Washington State University, where he met Jan Morss for the second time. The two met originally as toddlers.

The couple married in 1948 and moved to the island in 1956 where Vern, with two other partners, purchased Archie Lippman’s drugstore (in present-day Paper Products) in 1956. Jan supported Vern’s entroponeral endeavors.

“I supported him very much because I wanted to settle here,” she said.

In 1960, Vern purchased Malsed’s Rexall store, combining the two businesses. The store made its final move in 1967 to a space held by Kahn’s, a men’s department store, where it resides today.

While Vern’s didn’t embark on another relocation, it did survive a fire that completely destroyed a furniture store next door in what is now the Winslow Mall.

“We could feel the heat through the concrete wall,” Jan said. “But it didn’t burn anything in our store.”

Vern hired a professional drugstore designer in 1989 to repaint the store in burgundy and pink, replace carpeting and create a new layout.

“It annoyed people because the magazines weren’t in the back anymore,” Jan said.

Despite outlasting other island businesses, Vern’s did lose sales when franchised stores Safeway, Rite Aid and the Medicine Shoppe came to town.

While Jan doesn’t know how they’ve managed to survive over the years, she does acknowledge the pharmacy’s proximity to the Virginia Mason clinic.

“The clinic is right up the street so people can walk down here and fill their prescriptions,” she said.

She also credits customers who remain faithful to Vern’s, saying that quick, dependable service and friendly, helpful staff keep people coming back.

The other two partners eventually sold their shares to Vern, and he and Jan took on another partner to ensure the store’s survival – manager Janet Eltz-Chavanu, who joined the pharmacy staff in November 1964.

After Vern’s death in 2001, Jan and Janet remained partners.

“We’re busy every day now,” Janet said. “It’s changed in the last couple of years due to the population increase.”

But Vern’s isn’t planning on any dramatic changes, nor is it considering a move from downtown. It will increase its selection of gift cards, souvenirs, clothing and, of course, pharmacists to meet the demands of a growing population of islanders and tourists.

Jan’s goal for this year is to avoid putting out Christmas decor before Halloween. And to assure the community that Vern’s is here to stay.

“It may be under a different name, but we’ll always be here,” she said. “We love what we’re doing.”

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Golden year

Vern’s Winslow Drug celebrates its 50th birthday with a celebration through July 22. Patrons will be given numbered key chains during the month of July. Numbers will be drawn and winners will be eligible for a long list of prizes, including the grand prize – a week at the Marina Vallarta Resort in Puerto Vallarta.

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