- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

POCAHONTAS, Ark. (AP) - The downtown historic courthouse square features many unique stores, but one that has stood firm at Broadway and Bettis streets for generations is Futrell’s Pharmacy. Its commitment to history may be one reason why.

The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1UhIMKU ) reports that pharmacist Phil Futrell bought Johnston Drug Store in the courthouse square from Rector Johnston in the summer of 1961. A year later, he would add the Futrell name to the establishment.

Phil’s son, Mark, grew up working at the soda fountain in Futrell’s that originally had been built in 1915.

“I worked as a teenager in high school around the soda fountain,” Mark said. “Back then, especially on Saturday, the soda fountain really did big business. It was a totally different age back then.”

Mark would follow in his father’s footsteps and graduate from UAMS Pharmacy School in 1988. After 18 months working alongside his patriarch, Mark purchased half of the business from his dad in 1990. Little did he or others know at the time that he had purchased the oldest pharmacy in the state.

“I didn’t realize growing up working here, what we have here as far as history,” Mark said. “We found out in the Sesquicentennial that we had the oldest pharmacy in the state of Arkansas. We traced it back to 1854.”

With the historic downtown area becoming more significant with each passing year, Mark began restoring the storefront to its original design in 1998. He said he spent the same amount of money on restoration as he did to buy the building itself, which he finished purchasing April 1, 1999.

“I got permission from my dad who owned the building at the time to go ahead and make changes to the exterior of the building,” Mark said. “I’d seen some historical pictures of what the pharmacy had looked like, and I tried to take it back to that.”

That also involved changes on the interior, too, but one thing he kept was the soda fountain, which still to this day serves milkshakes, malts, ice cream floats and fountain drinks.

“We have a lot of people come down traveling from up north that see we have a soda fountain,” Mark said. “We’re online, so we’re keeping in touch with the ways people communicate today and also trying to keep some of the nostalgia of the old days.”

Driving up Broadway Street from U.S. 67 shows an example of that history. On the side of the building, which is in the Historical Registry, is a large Coca-Cola advertisement based on the old style look that had accompanied the soda fountain for so many years. Mark had a specific reason to go with that theme aside from the history, too.

“Because Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist, I went with a Coke theme,” Mark said. “In some of the pictures from 1908 and before, I had seen where there is a Coca-Cola advertisement in the store. I think it was like for 5 cents.”

However, with all the years of history, Futrell’s Pharmacy may be facing it’s most challenging times yet.

“In all honesty, for any independent community pharmacy to be standing and hopefully standing at the end of this year is no small feat, due to the reimbursement issues that have pounded us since last year,” Mark said. “We were going in the hole on a lot of prescriptions, and it was either that or tell the patient we couldn’t get it in. I won’t mislead you, the last year has been the most competitive year and the most economically challenging year that I’ve seen since I’ve been out in 1988 and in memory, as far as back in the early 70s. It’s been very tough to make a profit.”

The corporate transformation of many pharmacies and businesses in general is something Mark has watched happen from early in his career. Once Walmart came to Pocahontas, he counted 31 businesses in the downtown area that went under, but one that has endured is his store. Mark is 50 and doesn’t plan to retire - or stop serving milkshakes, malts and floats - any time soon.

“I’ve got an excellent staff here that allow me to do pharmacy practices in the 21st century with the early 20th century charm still here,” Mark said. “That’s been our goal at least.”

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com


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