50 YEARS AND COUNTING
A couple of years ago, pharmacist Tom Butt was ready to hang it up.
He was exhausted from filling prescriptions, keeping the books, doing the buying and scheduling, the insurance, the taxes, and so on. He was coming in early and leaving late. He had been sick with kidney stones and couldn’t sleep. He was grieving the death of his father, William H. (Blackie) Butt, with whom he had been very close.
Tom thought seriously about selling Butt Rexall Drugs, a fixture in Corydon for half a century this month.
Now, Butt’s Drugstore is very much alive and celebrating its 50th year. Tom, 54, is feeling much better. He’s had kidney stone surgery, he’s exercising daily and has lost 15 pounds. Business is so strong that he’s hired pharmacists Tim McCartin full-time and Sharon McKiever and Joe Moore part-time. Tom’s daughter, Katie Butt, has come home and is now the store manager with a gift for marketing. She’s changing the looks of the front of the store.
Butt Rexall Drugs, known for its personal service, inviting soda fountain and faithful employees, now has a staff of 12, including Julie McGraw, Tom’s “right-hand man,” pharmacy manager and troubleshooter. She’s been there 13 years.
Five years ago, Tom thought he had masterminded the last big change the store would ever need: Everyone worked all one furious weekend to revamp the store and enlarge the pharmacy. Now, business is so good that Tom’s looking at another renovation/expansion, although with a bit less enthusiasm for another weekend grind.
And yet, even with the changes and the growth, Butt Rexall Drugs has kept the same old friendly, personable, familiar-face, small-town helpfulness with the college rivalry memorabilia, fish trophies on the wall, and one of the few soda fountains still operating in Indiana.
William and Marge Butt moved here from Milan, Ind., in 1952. They had an unusual deal with Bud Habermel, who owned one of the two drug stores in Corydon. (Myron Davis owned the other.) Blackie had just built a new house in Milan; he traded it for Habermel’s long, narrow drugstore (now a Community First Bank branch office) on East Chestnut Street. Blackie and Marge lived in the apartment upstairs. The Butts had two children then, Tom, 4, and Andrea, 8. Donna was born in 1957.
Tom remembers the drugstore well. The prescription department was in the back and had wooden floors that Tom had to oil. It had the soda fountain and stools that spun around, wooden booths, two tables and wicker chairs left over from the days when Tommy Brandenburg had a restaurant and soda fountain there. Two large ceiling fans plus a large fan in the back kept the place cool in the summer. Tom said long-time employee Elizabeth Thomas (22 years) hated the warm months because she had to remove all the chocolate candy that would otherwise melt.
Mary Morgan worked for Butt’s for 37 years. Bud (Stoy) Shireman was another faithful employee, who worked there 22 years after 20 or so at Davis Drugs.
Rexall used to have one-cent sales. You could select King Edward cigars from a humidor for five cents, and cigarettes sold for 10 cents a pack. Blackie was a merchandiser, Tom said. Because all the doctors wrote their own prescriptions in those days, Blackie didn’t sell many drugs, maybe 10 prescriptions a day on a good day. Tom remembers when his dad would say proudly, “We did $100 of business today.”
Most of the business came from the “front end” of the store: cigarettes, sundries and “OTCs,” over-the-counter goods. The big selling times were Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “We used to gift-wrap everything,” Tom said, shaking his head in wonder.
Today, Butt’s Drugstore is doing considerably better than $100 a day. They fill hundreds of prescriptions in a day. But the competition is rough, and the profit margin is slim.
Tom went to Purdue University’s pharmacy school, as did his father, and graduated in 1971. He worked part-time at a drug store in Salem and part-time at his dad’s store in Corydon. Tom’s wife, Kathy, also a Purdue grad, taught third grade in Salem. (Kathy, 50, has taught third grade at North Harrison Elementary School since 1971.) Tom was becoming a workaholic, like his dad. Tom worked seven days a week for 23 years until Kathy finally declared one day, “This is ridiculous,” and he cut back. Somewhat. Tom said he’s always “worked hard, played hard and fished hard. But it caught up with me.”
In 1985, Butt’s made another big change: The store went to computers, which Blackie didn’t much like. However, it improved everything so much that now Tom can’t understand how they ever got along without them. A new computer system is on order.
Tom didn’t like working on Sundays, but Blackie thought it came with the territory. People needed prescriptions filled on Sundays, too. Tom was also working 5 a.m to 8 a.m. each day at the hospital pharmacy before he went to work at the drugstore. He did that for 10 years, from 1977 to 1987.
As the new doctors came to Corydon, fewer wrote their own prescriptions, so business picked up for the local pharmacists, Tom and Blackie at Butt’s, Bruce Thompson at Davis Drugs, others later Wal-Mart and CVS.
The new chain stores, with their bigger clientele and lower prices, and the insurance companies that now call so many shots in medicine, have required Butt to change his marketing plans. He’s had to increase his volume while maintaining personal service, buy “sharp” from wholesalers in a buying program he designed for his store and others (there are 13 pharmacists in his family!), and find a unique niche in the market. That’s where Katie, 25, comes in. She was a business administration major at Indiana University. She’s taking over many of the business chores her dad used to do, and she’s changing the front end of the store, bringing in more greeting cards, Louisville Stoneware, golf shirts and sweatshirts that emphasize historic Corydon, I.U., Purdue and U.K. collectibles, and a large selection of wine, especially Turtle Run Winery near Lanesville.
Now Tom can take Sundays off, he has more time for his family, and to “sneak out occasionally and go fishin.’
“I’m satisfied with the way things are going.”