By Mark S. McDonald
STANTON, Texas — One million hamburgers. Not many burger flippers can claim they have sold 1 million burgers, not even under the golden arches. And none of those same cooks can say they have filled 1 million medical prescriptions.
Kyle Kendall has done both – out of the same store.
Welcome to Stanton Drug, located 20 miles from downtown Midland, smack dab in the middle of what America used to be. This is where Kendall and precious few other independent operators juggle today’s business realities with sepia-toned memories.
“Folks feel comfortable here,” Kendall said one morning, not so long ago. Clearly, they do.
Just like every morning since 1981, when Kendall bought the place, local farmers, ranchers and oil/gas landmen fill the stools and stir strong coffee. As caffeine takes over, griping about Congress gives way to free coaching the Cowboys and begging for rain. Always begging for rain.
“These are the morning regulars,” Kendall said with a chuckle. Kendall is on hand to referee, to cajole, but mostly to steer clear of the ultra-capable hired help. There is a certain placid quality to this man, as if he is at peace with all around him.
Artist Norman Rockwell never painted this scene, but he should have.
With swivel stools, a few cramped booths and a no-nonsense menu, Stanton Drug is a fading remnant of yesteryear, a drug store-soda fountain combo that has gone the way of Motown sounds on the 8-track stereo tape deck.
In full view, Kendall steps around metal handles that could be pressed downward to serve foamy, sugar-laced liquids favored by teenaged girls wearing “penny loafers” or saddle oxfords once called “rah-rahs.” Hence the expression “soda jerk.”
The soda handles, like some of the morning coffee clubbers, haven’t worked in 25 years, but Kendall, as always, is good-natured about the continued malfunction.
“My help likes to kid me about who’s the real soda jerk,” Kendall said. Behind the counter, there’s a collective roll of the eyes.
Up high, shelves are lined with 75-year-old glass containers of cough suppressant, tummy calmer and other elixirs once promoted as miracle cures.
Chief ingredient in each? Alcohol.
“Oh, sure,” Kendall said. “Back in the day, alcohol was the cure for everything.”
Like Graham Pharmacy in Midland and too few others like it, this drug store-snack bar is giving way, albeit grudgingly, to Walgreens, CVS, WalMarts and other publicly-traded giants on the New York Stock Exchange. Not to worry, Kendall says.
A certified pharmacist by trade and training, an eternal optimist by nature, Kyle Kendall is a Tim Tebow when it comes to bucking market trends and conventional wisdom.
“Those big outfits are stealing customers from each other,” he said with a smile and an airy wave. “We’re doing just fine.”
Kendall’s local customers have remained loyal through the death of the full-service gas station but also the birth of Facebook. Customers keep coming from as far away as Big Spring and Midland.
“In the time you spend in line at the big places, I can have your prescription filled and have you out the door,” Kendall said.
The Pharmacy has been in continuous operation since 1951. Before that it was First State Bank, which opened in 1903. Kyle bought the place in 1981, has operated it as a Mom-n-Pop drug store where a customer could get a burger and a milk shake.
This morning, Mary Green, 31 years into this job, is working the counter. Third time you plop on a stool, she will call you by name and know your order before you do. Linda Martinez, her hands a blur over the grill, has been on deck for 27 years. Donna Bettingfield, with 26 years on staff, is the short-timer.
“I’m hard on help,” Kendall said. Mary Green shakes her head and rolls her eyes.
Truth be known, the staff needs him at the counter or filling prescriptions, out of their way. The lunch crunch, counting all the take-out orders going to outlying farms and ranches, can be just that – a crunch. And why not?
Here, you can still get a burger the size of a pie plate, with chips and a pickle slice, all for $5. Add 75 cents if you want double meat. With apologies to our friends at Weight Watchers, you won’t see tofu on the menu, nor even chicken.
Stanton Drug is a jolly good place to have your prescription – or your belly – filled. Too, it might be the best place in town, other than the teachers’ lounge at Stanton High, to catch up on town gossip.
One fellow is chuckling at the high winds outside, and how they played havoc with the newbies to the local flying club. Turns out, a wanna-be pilot lost control of the club’s only plane and made a forced landing into a neighbor’s barn.
Nobody was badly hurt, Kendall said, but the club itself suffered fatal injuries. Today, it no longer exists.
With minimal provocation, the coffee drinkers can be nudged into talking about local sports, especially the mighty Buffaloes varsity football team. There’s a team photo next to the counter. The caffeine crowd can still name most of the starters, as if those Buffaloes of yesteryear were Randy White and Troy Aikman on Tom Landry’s last Super Bowl team.
“That 1997 team went 16-0 and won the state championship,” Kendall said with a wistful sigh. “Now that … that was a lot of fun to watch.”
He might have mentioned an even more impressive record, that of 36 football victories in the next three succeeding years. None of those athletes made it big in the NFL. Hardly anyone does. But in a place so far from the Big Apple yet so close to what’s important, those former players made it where it counts most – in the hearts of their neighbors.
Extra onions on that burger. And gimme a side order of prescribe meds.