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Bidding Farewell to Timberman's Drugstore

Local landmark falls prey to changing times.

Another facet of Old Town Alexandria history became just that on Monday, Nov. 1 — another entry in the city's history book.

Timberman's Drugstore, 106 N. Washington St., a local landscape and humanitarian fixture since 1856, closed its door and turned off the neon sign above that door.

Pharmacist F. Edward Early has owned and operated the drugstore for the past 31 years. He was preceded in that role by pharmacists Milbrew, Lunt and Allen, Timberman, and Francis Nugent.

"I was working in a drugstore in the District at 18th and G when a drug company representative told me that this drugstore might be for sale. So I came to Alexandria and asked Mr. Nugent if he wanted sell. He said yes, and I bought it," Early said.

That was in 1973. "Two years later, in 1975, I bought the building. Now I'm going to sell it all. It's time to take some time off and spend more time with my family and grandchildren," he said.

"I've been a pharmacist for 45 years. So I'm not sure what I'm going to do exactly. I used to have some other pharmacists working for me, but I've been doing it all myself since 1983," Earley said.

NEWS OF THE CLOSING was a shock to many of his longtime customers. "It's too bad that our fast- paced life and the need to do everything in volume have taken this toll," state Sen. Patricia S. Ticer said.

"It was a real institution. It was like going to the Apothecary," she said, referring to the museum in Old Town Alexandria. However, as Earley himself admitted, it was this adherence to the old way of doing things that contributed to the store's demise.

"Many of my old customers have left because we are not computerized and we are not able to meet the requirements of the health plans and prescription drug requirements. But with all that, business is still very good. Even now, I get so busy I can't keep up," Earley said.

Ticer and her husband used Timberman's for all their pharmaceutical needs from 1956 until the 1980s when Medicare requirements kicked in. "We'd just call and they'd deliver the prescriptions right to the door," she said.

"I'm just distraught. I will miss him more than I can possibly say. We have been customers for more than 20 years," Alexandria resident Anne Mary Ingraham said.

"He was always so kind and went out of his way to help his customers. It's like losing a very dear friend. In fact, he said in his retirement letter he sent to all his long-time customers, that his customers had become his dear friends," Ingraham said.

Virginia Clarke Gray Backus began relying on Timberman in 1942. "I've been dealing with Mr. Earley since he took over. He has been so helpful to us. You could always rely on him to make personal deliveries," she said.

Backus' husband, retired Judge Franklin Backus, recalled that Timberman had served as Alexandria's mayor in the late 1930s. Backus himself was mayor in the late 1940s following World War II, his wife said.

Until this past Monday, Timberman's Drugstore was the oldest operating retail business in Alexandria, Earley said. "Originally, it was located on the corner of Washington and King streets. That's why the neon sign is shaped in a triangle so that it could be read from both streets," he said. The business moved to its present location in 1950, he said.

"I'M GOING to sell the whole building," Earley said. On the second floor of the two-story structure, with the address of 108 N. Washington St. and a separate entrance, are law offices.

A resident of Fairfax Station, Earley and his wife Dinah have a son who lives in Centreville. He is married with three daughters.

"This will give me more time to spent with my wife and my granddaughters," Earley said.

Various customers came in last Friday. One just stuck her head in the door and said, "I don't know what I'm going to do." Then she went on down Washington Street.

Another walked in looking for the phone booth which had been removed in preparation for the closing. "Where's the phone?" she said. Earley told her it had been removed but she repeated the question, "Where's the phone?" He just smiled and shook his head.

Another longtime customer lamented about the loss of the penny candy jars on one of the counters, filled with various sweets that could be purchased singularly or in quantity. "I'll never be able to find this again," she said.

Several customers came in for items that were no longer available as Early diminished his inventory in preparation for the closing. "I'm running out of everything. But there was no sense in reordering," Earley said.

"It's time. I've hardly taken any time off," he said. "I'm tired. But I will miss it."