Bemis closing leaves another hole in North Abington Center

The only thing Mike Franey enjoyed about going to Dr. Roland Phillip’s dentist office on North Avenue while growing up was the “bravery” award kids received afterwards. 

“He’d give you a ticket for an ice cream and you’d go up and get it from Bemis,” recalled Franey, whose family owned the home and service station on the opposite side of Brighton Avenue from the pharmacy..

The free ice cream, as well as the drug store’s classic soda fountain, are long gone. And soon Bemis Drug will join Bowser’s Seafood and the First National grocery store as memories of a North Abington Center past.

Pharmacy owner William Cox announced this week the 105-year-old business will close its doors on January 27. 

“It’s sad. It’s emotional,” said Cox, who took the business over from his father in 1988. 

The news shocked the pharmacy’s loyal customer base. But changes in the way insurance companies reimburse pharmacies for filling prescriptions, as well as the increased push for refills by mail, have made it increasingly hard for independent pharmacies to remain open.

“We’re filling as many prescriptions as we ever had,” Cox said. “ It’s the reimbursements that’s so much less.”

In 1905, Fred Bemis and J. W. Cooper purchased the F.M Spiller drugstore, which was located on the first floor of the Standish Building, a three-story commercial building that stood on the southwestern corner of Brighton Avenue and North Avenue, with a clock tower on the top. Cox’s father, Hugh, started working for Fred’s brother, E.O. Bemis in 1951 after using his G.I. Bill benefits to attend pharmacy school. Hugh Cox acquired the business in the early 60s.

Franey grew up in the house attached to the former Franey Brothers service station with his eight brothers and sisters.

“I have a lot of fond memories of Bemis… I remember sitting on the big stools and having a Coke with my dad,” Franey said. “The Cox were a great family. They had a lot of integrity, and that came right down from the mother and father.”

Cox recalled that his father often worked at the pharmacy from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fortunately, the family lived just down the street on North Avenue. 

“If we wanted to see dad we’d just walk up to see him at the store,” Cox said. 

Hugh Cox purchased the Franey home and commercial building from John Franey in 1968 and after a significant renovation, moved the pharmacy across Brighton Avenue shortly afterwards.

North Abington Center in the early 1900s. The Winthrop block is located in the middle of the picture. The Standish block is on its left. Bemis Drug was originally located on the first floor of this building until 1969. The building to the left of the Standish building is the current location of Bemis Drug.

[The Standish building burned down in 1977; a common fate for many of Abington’s old commercial buildings; the site is now part of the parking lot for the Abington Baptist Church.]

The original Bemis Drug location on the first floor of the Standish building, on the corner of Brighton and North avenues, as seen in 1912.

The soda fountain and granite countertop may not have moved to the new location, but the store remained a place Abington residents could buy greeting cards, children’s toys, drinks, candy, newspapers, and Lottery tickets. 

“Bemis has always been the life blood of North Abington,” said Tim Chapin, the current chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “I don’t think there has been a single time I’ve gone to breakfast at Martin’s, got my hair cut at Dave’s, or grabbed some pizza at Abington House that didn’t include a stop at Bemis for some soda, candy, or later in life, a scratch ticket or two.”

Being a pharmacist runs in the Cox family. Cox’s parents, Hugh and Druscilla, met in pharmacy school. One of his brothers is a pharmacist. Two of his own children, Matt and Amy, currently work in the store as pharmacy technicians. And, lately, two of his own grandchildren have been coming in on Saturdays to help. 

Cox said the impact of the pharmacy closing on his employees and customers has weighed on him while he made the decision.

“These people depend on the store for a job. What are they going to do?,” he said. “I felt a commitment to them, I also felt a commitment to the town… Having grown up in town, I know these families. It just makes it that much more difficult. 

After Jan. 27, Cox, 68, said his plan is retirement, where he hopes to relax and travel. 

Pharmacy files will be transferred to CVS in Rockland. 

Duval’s Pharmacy in Whitman Center, and Olden’s Pharmacy, in Weymouth’s Columbian Square, are two nearby independent pharmacies.

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