Coffman Drug Service was located at 1911 State Street. That location was on the southeast corner at the intersection with Hege Avenue. Coffman Drug Service is listed in the 1953 Columbus City Directory and served the citizens of East Columbus for many years before Hook’s opened an East Columbus store.
Marion and Helen Coffman were the owners of the store.
During high school, I worked for them and have many great memories about the store and people there. I worked as the delivery boy for them. This was my first job as a young man and I was scared to death going in asking for work. I did not have my driver’s licenses yet and I made delivery on my bicycle until I could drive I thought not being able to drive might disqualify me for the work. They took a chance on me and I guess it worked.
I worked every other night from shortly after school until 10:30 pm. and every Saturday either in the morning until noon or from noon until 10:30 pm. If I work the morning on Saturday, I worked Sunday all day. I think they closed at 5 PM on Sunday but it was still a very long day when it seemed like everyone else was out having a good time.
One hot Sunday afternoon Helen Coffman taught me to drive a car with a standard transmission. The car was a black Nash station wagon 3 speeds on the column. It was not the hottest of cars but relatively new and just right for the work of the store. If you have ever learned to drive a stick shift you know there was lots of jumping around as I worked the clutch on that little car. Mrs. Coffman was very patient with me and by the time, we were finished I could drive the car without to much grinding and jumping. I started driving with delivers for the store the next evening. I did not travel far from the store that first night but I was all ready and it was not long before I was driving all over town with things to drop off in that little black three speed.
My job consisted of stocking the shelves, sweeping the floors, waiting on customers and making deliveries as needed. I like the deliveries because I got out of the store for a while. It was a rather small building compared to today’s big stores but they had lots of “stuff” for sale, jewelry, nuts, cigars, magazines, aspirin, cameras, candy, gum, and on and on. It was a treasure trove of good things to buy as I remember.
You could park in front of the building along State Street then and they had extra parking on the Hege Street side of the building. The front counter was kind of a square with all kinds of cases and counter tops surrounding you. There was a big candy display across from the cigar case and the special cosmetics and jewelry cases on the opposite side of the check out. The entry aisle passed by the front counter and took you to the pharmacy in the rear of the building. Between the front and the back of the store were many great things to see and buy. The displays were a lot different than today. The sales atmosphere then is hard to describe. They had many different items for sale but fewer numbers of each type than we have today. The sparkle of today’s goods in shiny plastic and bright wrap seems to scream at you as you walk down the aisles. Back then not so much, they were there if you needed or wanted them but they did not force them selves on you. The idea was the same, to sell the product, just less obnoxiously than to day.
They had a nut case near the front it kept the nut warm. You could buy nuts by the bag all warm and fresh. I learned how great warm cashew nuts where there. There was a big candy case near the front and there were many different candies on the shelf from paraffin lips to Snickers candy bars. All very tempting and constantly there for you to look at as you stood behind the check out counter. As I remember nickels and dimes were more like the cost of a bar of candy then.
A large selection of magazines were available on the magazine rack along the outside wall of the store as you went by the coke machine, assorted home remedies and neared the pharmacy. Car magazines and real detective story magazines were the big attraction in those days. There were some fairly racy pictures in those weekly or monthly periodicals as I remember. Subdued stuff compared to what you can see today on some shelves but back then rather controversial.
They sold replacement TV tubes as well for those who had the need to replace a burned out tube every now and then. The customer would come in carrying the tube and you had to look the replacement up by number to get the right one. From time to time, the replacement would be change in shape or some such thing at the factory and we had to convince the buyer they were getting the right thing. There were those occasions when the number of the tube was not visible that could be a very difficult thing, no way to match the tube. If this were the case, the customer would sometimes search the tube selection and pick one, take the new tube, study it for a while out side the box, and then buy it as if they knew it was the one. They could not return the tubes so they were taking a big chance if it did not work some of the tubes were very expensive as I remember.
I learned about cigars there too. There was an older man that would come in and buy a cigar called a “crook”. It was make up a bit strangely it was not a straight-sided cigar it was crooked along two sides thus the name “crook”. It was wavy. He ask me one day why I thought he always purchased “crook” cigars. Of course, I did not know and I fell right in to the trap. He said, “Because they make crooked smoke.” We laughed at me for a bit and every time he came in after that, he would ask me about crooked smoke. It seems silly now but back then, it was a fun thing to do.
I worked longer hours in the summer painting and cleaning up some of the other buildings the Coffman family owned in town. They owned and operated the old Parker Drug Store located on Washington Street for a while. I cleaned the basement of that store out to get ready for them to open it as theirs. It was a messy hot job. I made good money for a 16 year old. I was able to save enough to make a good down payment on my first car after high school, a 1961 Chevrolet Impala 3 speed on the column a very sweet car.
The town was crazy about basketball during this time and if you were in high school, you had to go to the games. I got off in just enough time to get to the varsity game, it was special for me. This was in the 1962,63,64 time frame the high school basketball world literally revolved around the Columbus High School teams of the era. I was so happy they allow me to go it was a special thing they did for me.
Brownie Meyer was the pharmacist there along with another man named Jim I cannot remember his last name; both were great people for a 16 or 17 year old to be around. They were great fun and hard workers. You always knew when they were to busy they hardly spoke. However when it was slow they were a laugh a minute. Brownie could type with two fingers faster than anyone I have ever known. He caught the pharmacy typewriter on fire one time with his speed, at least, that was the story he told. I think it might have had something to do with the cigars he smoked at the time. He had great stories and was a very hard worked.
The store was robbed twice that I remember. It happened to me the first time. It was more of a slick move by the robber than a robbery. He was a “short change artist”. I guess being the young one and working the register all alone I was an easy target and as it turns out, I was. He got 10 dollars from me fairly easily. I know 10 dollars does not sound like much now but back then, it was a large sum of money. I did think something was going on with the transaction but he saw that in me and quickly purchased a pack of gum to distract me as he left the store. He was very slick and I felt very silly for letting it happen. I guess, the guy just moved on and spent the 10 dollars somewhere else.
The other time I remember the store being robbed was a bit after I had left the store. The robber shot at Helen Coffman as she cowered down behind the checkout counter screaming. The robber missed her and everyone was astounded because it was a pointblank shot. I think the hole from the bullet was still in the floor behind the counter when they closed the store, heck it might still be there. I do not remember if the guy got any money but I do know it made everyone who worked in the store nervous for a while. As far as I know neither robber was ever caught.
As a 16/18 year old, you learn a lot from a job like the one I had at Coffman’s Drug Store .You learn loyalty is important and doing a good job was necessary. You learned that people are most important in life and I was fortunate to have this in my life at a very good time.
Marian, Helen, Helen 2, Maryellen, Virginia, Brownie, Jim, Jean, David and Carl were all people I remember working there. Many of them have pasted on now but they were a great part of my life and I will always remember the way each of them helped me grow. They were great and I learned a lot from each of them. As I think, back on it now the education I got at Coffman’s was the foundation for much of my later life. They were good solid hard working, caring people it was a privilege to work with them. The Coffman’s were super to take a chance on a young guy that was really wet behind the ears but eager to learn and help. I was not the only one they helped along the way I know but for me it was a real help in my life and I am very thankful to them.
Last Edit: May 19, 2007 10:56:46 GMT -5 by nolgreen
Welcome, welcome, nolgreen, and other new members. The post about Coffman Drug Store is just wonderful. The 'signs of the times,' the 'lessons learned,' just a beautiful tribute to a time and place gone by. Please keep posting, nolgreen. That goes for everyone, too.
New screen name, same me---Nanc, emails should go to "Nanc" as on the members list. Thanks. Have a super day!
Just wanted to add a few things to the article on Coffman drugs. I am Jim Coffman, son of J Marion & Helen Coffman. Dad worked for Hooks Drugs in Indianapolis before starting the Columbus store. He left Hooks when his annual salary review came up and he was awarded a 10 cent an hour raise. Evidently he wasn't happy with it. Nolgreen worked at the store during the period that I was In the army and I don't remember him. I had the same job as him until joining the army. I can add a few last names to his list. The second pharmasist name is Jim Newton. Maryellen DeBusk from Hartsville, Carl Corell who later owened Pasquale's Pizza and was married to Jeans daughter. David Brooks a close neighbor of ours on Coovert St. who graduated from Purdue in Pharmacy, later owing a store in Michigan. The store was sold to Brownie around 1961-62 as my parents had bought Davis Salvage and doing both was to much for them. I bought Davis Salvage from them in 1966 and run it under one name or another until 2005. I do remember the basement cleanup at Parker Drugs. It was a virtual museum of old items as nothing was ever scrapped. Old cameras, patent medicines, motrar and pestils, even the early patent narcotic medicine that were sold over the counter. Much of it was donated to the Hooks old time drug store that was a display at the Indiana State Fair grounds. Remembering the time growing up, I don't think there was a better time to be growing up. I remember it fondly. A great tribute to my parents. Thanks for a great glimps into my past Jim Coffman
Hi I just joined the forum today and was excited to see the post about Coffman Drug Store. I lived on Beatty Street as a child and my memories of the drug store are some of my favorites. I was allowed to walk there with my cousins to get a treat in the summer. They had the biggest candy selection of anyplace I know. They had penny and nickel candy and we would always leave with a bag full.
My husband and I were married in May 1955. We lived in an up -stairs apartment on Pearl St.It was so hot,that we went to Coffmans to buy a fan.We did not have much money so bought a cheap one..It was not doing the job, so we went back to see about getting a different one. Mr. Coffman said we needed a more expensive one. We said we could not afford . He let us take it and pay him one dollar a week.I think it was 25.00. You would not believe the difference. My husband still has it and uses it in the garage. Works fine.Katie