It's hard to imagine a better example of a Main Street survivor — or a survivor anywhere, for that matter — than Argenta Drug at 324 Main St. in North Little Rock. Solon Humphries, whose partner C.J. Lincoln opened a drug store in Little Rock that is now the Green Corner Store, opened a pharmacy in 1882 at Broadway and Maple. The business, under a variety of owners and at a couple of locations, ended up at its current address in 1887; pharmacist David Chu bought it in 1986. (There is a sign and a story that the drug store opened in 1880, but history proves otherwise.)
Other than a soda fountain that was torn out during a remodeling in the 1950s, the drug store looks pretty much exactly as it has for decades: a long, bowling alley of a building with a painted Coca-Cola advertisement on the side, a flaking neon sign out front over a banner that says "Filling Prescriptions is our Business" and a green and white awning. From the street, the place looks like a set from "To Kill a Mockingbird," a building ripped from a bygone age, with the patina of many summers.
Inside, it's about as old-school as it gets, with lighted signs in 1950s font that mark off each area of sales, none of them followed by whoever is doing the stocking these days: Cough and Cold, Gift Wrap, Medicinals, Insecticides, Home Remedies, Film, Perfume, Body Powder. Near the doors at the front is a long, empty pipe rack bearing a sign that once said, "For pleasure, contentment and solid comfort, give a man a pipe he can smoke" before a few letters went missing. On a high shelf is a large, ornate apothecary jar, half-full of colored liquid. The pharmacist's roost is at the back, below a sign informing customers that the store is the oldest in Arkansas, the sales counter dominated by an ancient cash register. Standing inside the drugstore with a Coke in your hand, it's easy to imagine yourself transported back in time, especially when the streetcar rumbles past the big windows that look out on Main Street.
Joy Noble is Chu's wife. She said that though Argenta Drug is the oldest continuously operating drugstore in the state, a drugstore in Marked Tree may be older, though it once closed for a time during its history. Noble said that while their business has always been good, when her husband bought the store in 1986, Argenta was a much different place than it is today. "Downtown has really changed a lot," she said. "It was once or twice a year [that] the window was busted or some kind of vandalism. It wasn't safe to walk the streets at night."
Since the revitalization efforts in Argenta, Noble said the streets are much safer. "Now you see people out here all the time," she said. "They have the art walk and you really feel safe."
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