Overman & Stevenson to close after 94 years
By Paul Nielsen
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Pearl Spear has shed more than a few tears these last few weeks after getting home from her shift as the manager at Overman & Stevenson Pharmacy in downtown Elizabeth City.
Sometimes watching an old, sentimental movie brings even a few more tears. Those tears fall because after almost 20 years at the pharmacy Spear is going to miss her fellow employees, but more importantly the hundreds of loyal customers, when Overman & Stevenson closes its doors next month after serving the region for 94 years.
The pharmacy, run by the pharmacist father-son duo of Paul and Nick Stevenson, filled their last prescription on Saturday. The store will be open through the end of October, or until the inventory of over-the-counter medications, greeting cards and other items are sold.
“I’ve been here a long time and I’m really going to miss our employees and our customers,” Spear said. “It’s really sad. Our employees are sad and so are our customers. We have one customer that is 105 and another that is 94 and has been a customer since she was a little baby.’’
Paul Stevenson’s father, John, founded the business with Harold Overman on March 27 1925, and it has been located in Elizabeth City’s downtown ever since.
Paul Stevenson, 87, has been semi-retired for several years but still donned his white coat on a part-time basis to help fill prescriptions before typing out his last label on Saturday. Nick, 65, will move a few blocks down the street to work at Todd’s Pharmacy on South Poindexter Street, which is where all of the pharmacy’s prescriptions will be transferred.
Paul filled his first prescription in the city in 1962 after working as a pharmacy technician in the U.S. Air Force and then as a pharmacist for a few years in Durham. When he first started, the pharmacy business was dominated by locally-owned full-service pharmacies but over the years that has changed dramatically as big-chain pharmacies now dominate the market.
That is one reason Paul said Overman & Stevenson is closing its doors.
“I’m sorry that we need to close the store, but I feel like it is the best thing to do right now,” he said. “This has been a rewarding profession but it has become more difficult for the independent to survive. I am going to miss the people. I enjoy seeing our customers. I hope to enjoy retirement.’’
Nick, who started as a pharmacist in 1984, echoed his father’s sentiments and added that he is glad that his father finally gets to enjoy a full-retirement.
“At the peak, we had four pharmacists working regularly full-time,” Nick said. “It is very bitter-sweet because the customers mean a lot to us. Our customers are like family and we have got to know generations of families. But I am happy because my dad gets to retire. He has been married to the store for many, many years.”
Nick said the best option was to move Overman & Stevenson’s customers to an independent pharmacy like Todd’s, which has several locations in the region.
“Our files will go down there and I will go down there to work so we have some continuity,” Nick said. “It will also afford me the opportunity to work with our customers. Most of the people I have talked to have said that is a positive and that they would like to continue on down there. They will have somebody at Todd’s that they know at least. It will be an adjustment for me, but I am looking forward to that.”
Edenton’s Blount’s Mutual Drugs owner Jim Blount did a four-year apprenticeship at Overman & Stevenson in the mid-1960s. He said he was saddened when he learned one of Elizabeth City’s landmark businesses was closing its doors.
Blount, who has owned his pharmacy since 1988 after being associated with the 100-year-old business since 1969, said many pharmacists over the years got their training at Overman & Stevenson and that as an owner he is well aware of the many challenges independent pharmacies face against big-chain stores
“I have a lot of respect for Overman & Stevenson and the operation that they run,” Blount said. “I am sad to see them cease, but I certainly understand it. They have served the city well and they were a dominate pharmacy for many years where they had three to four pharmacists working in the pharmacy all day long. They had a scheduled auto delivery where a Mr. Crane went out every 90 minutes with a box of things to deliver around the community. They also had a delivery person that delivered around downtown on a bicycle because that was more efficient than a car. It was always a very professional operation.”
Delivering prescriptions was always a staple at Overman & Stevenson. City resident Bobbie White said he delivered prescriptions, performed maintenance work and opened the door for customers at the pharmacy for 51 years. He said both Stevensons and the store’s customers kept him coming back to work year after year.
“These are good people to work for, nice people,” White said. “I’m going to miss the customers and all the people I have met. We have a lot of regulars and I am going to miss them.’’
Many Overman & Stevenson customers also have their favorite over-the-counter items they purchase at the pharmacy. Spear placed the store’s final order for those items on Thursday. She said she has many fond memories of her almost 20 years at the pharmacy.
“I’m going to miss making coffee for me and Mr. (Paul) Stevenson every morning because that is how our day started off,” Spear said. “The customers, we know everything about their families. We know what they like and what they don’t like. We pick out cards for them, and gift wrap, and do all kinds of services like that. We catered to our customers, and we all enjoyed that. We are sad because we are losing our jobs and we are losing our customers.”
William Owens, Todd’s Pharmacy owner and president, said customers can expect a “seamless transition” and still enjoy the personal service they received at Overman & Stevenson. He also said Todd’s will provide additional services like being able to refill prescriptions on the pharmacy’s mobile app and synchronizing a customer’s prescriptions so that different prescriptions can all be refilled on the same date.
“They are merging their files into ours,” Owens said. “If someone needs a refill they can just call or come here and we will have their information and access to their files. We are very similar to them in that being an independent pharmacy we have in-town delivery and we offer the same type of personal service that they were used to at Overman & Stevenson. Overman & Stevenson was known to offer a lot of personal service and we do as well. They (customers) are not going to be a number.’’