To walk into Selmer Drug Company is to step back in time. The store evokes memories of a time when people smiled at strangers on the street, neighbors stopped by for a visit, and life was less hectic.
An era captured so famously by Norman Rockwell, when the corner drugstore was the place to socialize and to enjoy a treat from the soda fountain. History captured and reminisced over through pictures, newspaper articles, documents, and even a 1953 Selmer High School yearbook kept on permanent display. The shelves are filled with other memorabilia as well: polaroid and film cameras, medicine bottles, and other household products from days gone by.
The building is original to downtown, built by Carmen Smith in 1918. Mr. Smith used bricks from a local kiln located close to the present-day hospital. The land is included in the original plans of the city, which was laid out in 1890. At the time of building, John Curtis, along with his father and brother, opened the Selmer Drug Company. The drugstore included a soda fountain with marble-topped counter and tables, which the Curtis family replaced with formica in 1945.
Robert Mitchell began working there while a student at Selmer High School. He also began dating his future wife, Tommie (Sipes) Mitchell. On the history wall is a photo of the young couple sitting in the same drugstore booth over which the picture hangs.
“It was hard to make a living growing cotton and corn, or working at Brown Shoe Company,” said Mitchell, “and those were about your only choices back then.” Instead, Mitchell decided to pursue a career in the pharmacy business, entering Memphis State University in the fall of 1953.
Mitchell came back home and went to work in 1960. “There was a lot of turmoil in the ‘60s. People worked for a quarter an hour, and some had no work. Ice cream was a nickel.” The soda fountain was removed completely in the late 60s.
Mitchell purchased the drug company in 1981. “We get called a lot of things,” said Mitchell. “People know us as the Selmer Drug Company, the Selmer Drug Store, Mitchell’s Drug Store, even Rexall Drug Store. We answer to all of them,” laughed Mitchell.
Mitchell’s wife Tommie added her own touch to the store, overseeing the line of gifts and cosmetics available. The store carries a complete cosmetic line, and offers to order anything a customer wants if they don’t have it. The Mitchell’s also raised three children while growing their business; daughter Mandy, and sons Darwin and John. “We now have a granddaughter at Ole Miss, one at Georgia Tech, and two grandsons in school in Shelby County.”
“I think the hometown edge sets us apart,” said Mitchell. “We give our customers personal attention. If they need help, we offer credit arrangements. We try to find what they need. Because we are an independent drug company and privately owned, we can offer personal service the chain pharmacies can’t.”
Lisa Maxedon Smith has worked as a Pharmacy Technician for 14 years with the store. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only drugstore with a backdoor policy,” laughed Smith. “People come in the back door more than they use the front one,” she joked.
Selmer Drug Company offers a complete line of pharmaceuticals, both prescription and over-the-counter, as well as toiletries and snacks. Located at 133 West Court Avenue in downtown Selmer, the store is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 5:30, and on Saturday from 9-12. The phone number is 645-5391. When you stop by, plan to stay for a little while, and talk about Selmer history with someone who obviously loves this town.
By Lisa Forsythe