Susan Parrish
The La Grande Observer

About the series

Business Spotlight is a monthly column by the Union County Chamber of Commerce.

UNION — Walt Brookshire has proven that you can go home again. After graduating from Union High School, he went away to college to become a pharmacist. He returned home to work a summer internship with pharmacist Wayne Ferguson at the Union Drug Company in 1980.

He was managing a pharmacy in Baker City in 1993 when Ferguson died. Brookshire and a handful of other pharmacists kept the store open, but eventually, it would have to close. Brookshire decided he wanted to continue the legacy of a pharmacy in his hometown of Union. He bought the business in January 1994.

Over the years, he’s remodeled the pharmacy and most recently built an addition with 12-foot ceilings, 1,600 feet of retail space and an old-fashioned soda fountain and cafe. The transformation of Union Drug Co. & Soda Fountain was complete.

The red brick building on the corner of Main Street and the bank of Catherine Creek has been a pharmacy since its construction in 1903. Before that, the site had a wood-frame pharmacy as early as 1870, but it was destroyed by fire. Brookshire, who appreciates history, was one of the volunteers who worked in the 1990s to achieve a National Historic District status for Union’s Main Street, including his building.

Old made new

Brookshire has shown how a business can bridge the past with the future. The pharmacy is a modern operation where Brookshire, the sole pharmacist, rings up purchases on a computerized point-of-sale. But with a nod to the past, he greets his customers by name. He also knows their children and their grandchildren. He takes the time to discuss their medications.

The cafe’s lunch menu of homemade soup and sandwiches crafted on homemade bread is posted on Facebook daily. Old-fashioned ice cream sundaes and banana splits are served, but so are espresso, mocha and other coffee drinks.

When Brookshire built the soda fountain addition, he pored over photographs of soda fountains and architecture from decades past to get the right look.

“I didn’t want an ice cream parlor of the teens and twenties or the chrome parlors of the 1950s. So I picked the 1940s,” he said.

He bought a 1940s soda fountain from the Newberry’s in Eugene. His daughters repainted the faded Rexall Drug sign on the building’s façade. He finished the addition’s exterior with shiplap siding and included a step-down parapet to mimic some of Union’s older buildings. When he and his son-in-law built the cafe’s wooden bar, they incorporated two vintage cast iron columns donated by a friend. Although the 12-foot ceilings appear to be covered with historic tin tiles, they are new foam tiles crafted in Estonia.

With the addition, Brookshire has added affordable gift items under $20 for young families and grandparents on a budget. These include toys that require imagination: old-fashioned metal tops, puzzles, games, coloring books and colored pencils. Nary an electronic toy is in sight.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer