I don’t think I would be too far out of line if I were to say that there is a restaurant or some sort of eatery on every corner — and many that are not on a corner – in downtown Napa today. Eating has become a big business in my hometown. It seems like new ones are opening weekly.
In the Napa of the 1930s, and up until the end of urban renewal, instead of a place to eat on every corner, there was a drug store. OK, maybe not on every corner but it’s a fact that in the 2 blocks from the corner of First and Main to the corner of First and Coombs there were 6 drug stores and another one just a block away on Second Street. All of the stores were locally owned and operated and most of their owners and operators and their families were involved in the local community.
I remember every single one of them.
From east to west on First Street, starting from the corner of First and Main Streets in the location now occupied by Coffee Roasting Company, was Levinson’s Pharmacy, owned and operated by Al Frommelt.
The two things I remember most about Levinson’s was the tall, vertical “Rexall” sign on the building corner that could be seen for blocks and the 3-wheel delivery motorcycle that had a golden bear mounted atop the rear cargo compartment. Mr. and Mrs. Frommelt had several children around my age, and I went to Napa High with some of them.
On the corner directly across Main Street from Levinson’s, now an unoccupied restaurant site, was Lovejoy’s Pharmacy owned and operated by Foster Roper. I went to Napa High with daughter Pat Roper.
The only drug store on First Street not on a corner was Dell’s Cut Rate Drugs. It was on the north side of First between Main and Brown at a location between what is now Starbucks and Ristorante Allegria. The operator and pharmacist was Jerry Ammons, a very active and community-minded businessman.
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Next was the Arrighi & Ballerini store at the southwest corner of First and Brown Streets owned by Emil Arighi. The former Carither’s building that houses county offices occupies that site today.
Lastly, on First Street corner of Coombs, beneath the Native Sons building, was Miller’s Drug Store. Elmer Miller, the owner, opened the store at that location in 1930 and son Bob, who took over the business in the late 1950s, owned and operated it until it closed in 1980. I went to Napa High with Bob and Joyce, the Miller offspring. (Bob Miller generously provided some of the background for this essay.)
The only drug store not on First Street was Maggetti’s Pharmacy on the corner of Brown and Second. It was tucked into the corner of a branch of the Bank of America, now a branch of Wells Fargo Bank. Napa’s Jim Maggetti, former executive with Kaiser Steel Corporation, now retired, is the son of the pharmacist owner.
With the beginning of the downtown re-development effort in the 1960’s, drug stores began to close. Finally, about 1980, the only ones left in downtown were Levinson’s, Miller’s and Merrill’s Drugs. (Merrill’s had come to town in the 1960s and occupied the former J.C. Penney building on First Street between Coombs and Randolph.)
Levinson’s finally closed the downtown store and opened one in the Bel Aire center and Miller’s closed for good in 1980. Merrill’s lasted until the 1990s when it closed leaving the downtown area without drug stores. The Merrill’s building is still empty and the site is included in a new project involving a hotel and retail complex.
Back in the day, we had lots of drug stores downtown. Now, we have lots of eateries. The good thing is, unlike some towns, at least we have businesses downtown.