For my first summer job, I worked in my aunt’s small store in Hollis, ME . Your Country Store, it was called, and its tagline said “We sell everything,” We did. The sandwich counter was next to the nails, and tennis balls were toward the front. My younger brother worked as a butcher there for a few summers, and there were always people who would come in the spring to buy their seed corn.
It wasn’t the variety that mattered to me, though. It was the people. So many regulars for whom, even 30 years later, I remember the beer they drank (always Coors Lite), or which doughnut they’d buy a dozen of (always molasses). And they knew me. My old Sunday school teachers, my high school teachers, everyone stopped into Your Country Store eventually. One man, I remember, said he didn’t know who I was exactly, but he knew I was a Nichols because of my nose. (It is distinctive.) Your Country Store was what sociologists call a third place. It’s not home, and it’s not work, but for its regulars it provides a home away from home: a place to talk that’s accessible to all sorts of people.
That’s the same feeling I have about our local pharmacy, College Hill Pharmacy. It’s a small-town independent pharmacy, where they still deliver your prescription to your door and they stock a little bit of everything. Every time I go there, I see people I know, and we chat about what the kids are doing, what my dogs have done recently, when the cicadas will stop chittering. It’s the first place my children were allowed to go on their own. They knew they were growing up when they could take their birthday money and walk to buy candy by themselves. It’s where I’ve bought more birthday presents than I can count. It’s where they know how my day is going based on the kind of chocolate I buy.
And as of Wednesday, it will be gone.
A drug store chain bought them and is shutting them down this week. We found out last week while we were on vacation. This is big news in our little town. And when I opened the letter they mailed me today, I had to bite my lip to keep from crying.
Because it’s not just a change in where I get my prescriptions filled. It’s the end of a good third place. A neighborly place where my family and I have been known and helped.
Support the third places in your community. They need you.
And you need them.