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History time: The long life of Jamaica Plain's first drug store (Part 2)

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  July 26, 2011 09:00 AM

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2 - Bill Sullivan, Roy Ciapciak, John Donovan, ca 1965, photo courtesy of Sally Donovan.jpg

(Courtesy: Sally Donovan)

Bill Sullivan, Roy Ciapciak, and John Donovan, circa 1965.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history. The following is the second installment in a three-part series based on 2011 interviews with Sally Donovan, the last owner's wife; several former employees; and the author's employment as a clerk from 1949 to 1952. Read the first installment here and the third here.

The Pharmacists
The pharmacists (and clerks) were always dressed in shirts, ties, and starched white jackets, even in the stifling pre-air conditioning summer days. A huge portable fan blew a hurricane from the front of the store but we still sweated mightily to maintain C.B. Rogers' decorum.

2 - Interior along west wall, 1965, photo courtesy of Sally Donovan.jpg
(Courtesy: Sally Donovan)
Along the shop interior's west wall in 1965.
In the early 1950s the pharmacists included owner Jack Lewis and brothers Jack and Tony Montalbano -- who later left and opened their own store in their hometown of Everett calling it Whitehill (Montalbano) Pharmacy. Martin Davis, another pharmacist, was as conscientious and careful as they come, especially if he suspected a patient was abusing a prescription medicine.

A lanky, balding man with glasses perched on his nose sat with legs crossed while hunched over an old fashioned bookkeeper's lift-top desk as he prepared the monthly statements for the Rogers' Charge Account customers. This was Jack Lewis, who many thought was Mr. Rogers, an appellation that caused Jack to shrug shyly with just a trace of a smile breaking across his rather patrician face.

Jack would stop his bookkeeping only to answer the phone, because no one else dared answer it unless directed to do so. Thin, or more accurately, skinny, Jack had a sweet tooth with a fondness for chocolate-covered peppermint patties.

A kindly man with great professional bearing befitting an old Yankee pedigree, Jack Lewis was the essence of the C. B. Rogers drugstore and preserved the culture and tradition of the place. Notwithstanding his role as owner, he did all the same chores and covered the same shifts along with his staff of pharmacists. He was a gentleman through and through.

In 1956 Roy Ciapciak from Buffalo, N.Y., was hired and he stayed until 1965 with time out for a stint in St. Louis until his wife, Mary (Dolan) got homesick for Jamaica Plain. In 1965, he opened Windsor Pharmacy in Norwood. He closed that store in 1984 and worked at Hospital Pharmacy, Norwood, for 20 years

Bill Sullivan of Charlestown joined the store in about 1957 after a few years working for the Liggett's chain in downtown Boston. He was mercilessly shot in 1975 during one of the five hold-ups in his time at Rogers. He had complied with all the robber's demands but it wasn't enough, and the robber shot Bill as he was lying face down on the floor.

Bill never worked full-time again and he carried the bullet to his grave in 1997 at age 82 . His light-hearted humor and quips are still remembered.

In 1959, Ed Carey from Mission Hill, and later Kingsboro Park, entered as a clerk. He obtained his degree and became a pharmacist in 1963. He left in 1971 for his own store in Lakeville, which he ran for 25 years.

John J. J. Donovan of Cambridge entered the store in 1965. He and his wife Sylvia "Sally" (Saliunas) of Waterbury, Conn., were both United States Air Force veterans: he as a pharmacist, she as a registered nurse.

Sally Saliunas was born in 1924. She grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Duquesne University where she earned BS and RN degrees. After rejection by the Army, the Air Force accepted her and she served seven years, including 15 months in the early 1950s evacuating patients by air from a mobile hospital outside Seoul, Korea.

Among the highlights of her military life was flying in the same transport with John Eisenhower, the president's son, and being awarded the Air Medal. She met her future husband, John J. Donovan, in the service. They were married in 1958 and lived in Roslindale before moving to Jamaica Plain.

John worked as a staff pharmacist at Rogers from 1965 to 1970. In 1970 he bought the store from Jack Lewis who retired to Cataumet.

Starting in the 1970s the store experienced a sharply different Jamaica Plain social environment. There were numerous attempts to pass forged prescriptions, several break-ins, and five holdups, including the one when Bill Sullivan was shot.

A security guard was put on duty in the store during all open hours. The toll on Donovan's health and the decline in morale in the store were significant and along with the pressures of the super drugstores’ buying power, the 12-hour days and the constant fear, John decided to close the store in 1978, selling off the fixtures, inventory, and equipment.

The Clerks

3 - Interior facing north to prescription area, 1965, photo courtesy of Sally Donovan.jpg
(Courtesy: Sally Donovan)
The north wall's prescription area in 1965.
Clerks in the late 1940s included Bob Nelson, Mike Flahive, Bernie Panos, Dr. Charles McDevitt (a long-time chiropodist on Centre Street who was just getting his practice started), and the author. Charles 'Nippy' Cropper, a bit younger, was the bicycle delivery boy who carried needed medicines to many customers in the area. (Later, Charlie Cropper and I were long-time colleagues at Boston Edison Company.)

Later clerks included the Darcy brothers, the King Brothers, the MacCormack brothers, and Tom Cloherty. Janice O'Hara Murray worked there as a clerk during her high school years. For Janice, her time in the early 1970s, during the Donovan years, became a family affair. During the school months she worked part time, going full time during the summer, as did her sister Joanne O'Hara along with their friend Jeannie King. Joanne's future husband, Gerry Martell, was the deliveryman handling that chore with John Donovan's 1967 Mustang. Gerry's parents, Betty and Gordon Martell, were also clerks. Geoff McCarthy was the store's business manager.

Janice O'Hara Murray fondly remembers John Donovan's compassion for his customers, his long hours, his willingness to stay open for a late-arriving prescription customer and his concern for his employees. She and her sister often helped John with his Christmas shopping for his daughter at Erco's Toy Store. They knew just what toys were hot that year and that made John the wise Santa.

On Saturdays, with a full crew aboard, the junior clerk would retire to the cellar with the week's list of "running low" items jotted down each time a sale produced an imminent shortage of that item on the shelf. That chore involved filling up milk crates from the backup supplies on the shelves down in the cellar. The boxes would then be lugged upstairs where every available hand pitched in to get the replacement items to their respective shelves as time between customers allowed.

A newly-hired clerk had to spend the first 40 or so hours removing, dusting and re-shelving every one of the thousands of different items in the store as a way to learn the stock. Tedious, but effective.

In 1950 part-time clerks' pay was about 50 cents an hour, and it would be paid in cash, laid out in little piles on payday near Jack's bookkeeping desk and stool. The pharmacist's salaries, estimated at about $2.25 an hour, were placed in small envelopes so that the rest of us couldn't see what they were making.

Another duty of the junior clerk was to pick up a special order of drugs at the Gilman Company, drug wholesalers, in Boston. This was done by streetcar. Arriving at Gilman's no ID was checked, no questions asked, just "I'm here for the C. B. Rogers order." I'd sign, and they'd hand it over. These pickup trips were a nice break in the regular routine and of course all expenses (20 cents) were paid.

And one last thing, cash registers in those days didn't compute the change.

Read the first installment in this three-part series here and the third here.

This column is a submission from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at:

2 - Interior at former soda fountain location, 1965, photo courtesy of Sally Donovan.jpg

(Courtesy: Sally Donovan)

A 1965 photo of the interior where the former soda fountain once was.

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