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May 7, 2004

Story of how Perry businesses fought off Chain Store invasion is remembered

In the late 1920s, when the Great Depression was in the early developmental stage here and abroad, the term "chain store" was spoken in small towns like an epithet, with a contemptuous curl of the lip. Chain stores were usually looked upon by hometown merchants as a device of the devil to destroy Main Street America. That negative sentiment did not apply to J.C. Penney, McLellan's and Safeway Grocers, like those in Perry, or to other businesses that had already earned respect in some of the smaller markets. Those were regarded as friendly and necessary implements of commerce that meant no harm to other merchants. In Perry, just about everyone got along pretty well in their attempts to serve the public and still make a small profit. Then a new "chain store pharmacy" came to the Perry Courthouse Square, and most of the community bristled with resentment. It was like the arrival of Carpetbaggers in the South after the Civil War. *Especially so to the three drug stores that already served local customers on the north, east and south sides of the Perry Square.

The proprietors of those three businesses decided to take the offensive in the early stages and make the new chain store in their midst reconsider its options. The intent was nothing less than an attempt to drive the chain operation out of business in this defiant little city.

None of this was on my mind at the time because I was a mere lad, but through the years I have heard stories told by members of my family who were directly involved. My Dad, Fred W. Beers, who died at the age of 57 in 1931, was the owner and proprietor of the City Drug Store, one of the anchors of the North side of the Square. Other principals involved in this drama were Ralph Foster Sr. of Foster's Corner Drug on East side and Everett Nelson of the Southside Pharmacy on the South side of the Square, where City Hall is now located. Those three men, ordinarily friendly competitors, joined hands when the Chain Store came to town. Together they succeeded and quickly drove the Chain operation back to Enid, where it originated, I am told.

The small-town battle and eventual victory were deemed worthy of retelling in a detailed article that appeared in a nationally distributed professional magazine, Drug Topics. This little book, about the size of today's Reader's Digest Magazine, described in some detail how the three local drug store owners succeeded in their battle for survival. I have a copy of the magazine. I also have some of the other memorabilia and tales that have been told to me that have been saved all those years. The magazine article appeared in the April 1931 issue. That was the month before Dad died in an Enid hospital, so he did not have much time to relish his part in the victory.

All this recently came to light again as Laura and I prepared for Perry's annual Cleanup Week. Of course we did not throw any of the good stuff away. That is one reason we have a Cleanup Week, is it not? More on this little episode will follow soon.