OCEAN CITY — The corner of 8th Street and Philadelphia Ave. will never look the same, as a landmark business went dark Tuesday afternoon.
Since 1952, Bailey’s Pharmacy has been a staple in Ocean City, but its 59-year run came to an emotional close this week, but not before owner and pharmacist Stanley McCabe heard from some of his loyal customers and employees.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, and the weeks preceding the closure, McCabe filled many of his longtime customers’ prescriptions for the last time and was given numerous handshakes, hugs of appreciation and even saw some tears. There were even a few gifts, too, like the engraved items given to him by longtime employees Patti Cropper (29 years); Betty Redden (27 years); and Linda Hutchinson (20 years).
“It’s been like working for mom and dad all these years,” said Cropper, who has worked for Stanley and his wife, Martha, since 1982. “It’s been the best job in the world, and they have practically raised me. I’ve gotten married, raised a family and I’m still here. It’s been special and none of us really know what to do now.”
When McCabe locked the doors on Tuesday evening, it was his final day in business as an independent pharmacist, the last of his kind in Ocean City. McCabe, who turned 68 years old yesterday, has been a part of Bailey’s for 53 of those years, beginning his career there in 1959.
When he was 15 years old, he began working as a stock clerk for then owner Halcolm Bailey. He worked with Bailey during the summers all through high school and graduated from pharmaceutical school in 1967 in Baltimore. He then worked as a pharmacist with Bailey until 1973, the year he bought the store from his mentor.
McCabe said this week the pharmaceutical industry has changed in recent years, particularly with the health insurance industry, increased regulations and online and mail order prescription services.
“It’s become harder to keep up for sure, mentally and physically,” McCabe said.
Despite the changes and challenges posed by them, McCabe remained like family to many of his customers, often delivering their prescriptions himself to their homes if they could not make it to the store.
“I’ve known a lot of these people for 40 years, going through two or three generations. There are probably 15 people that I have been dropping prescriptions to when I leave here. I’m happy to help them, and I’m sure they will miss me. I know I will miss them for sure,” McCabe said.
One of those folks is Violet Steger, who was born in Ocean City and has lived in the same downtown home for 63 years.
Steger has been shopping at Bailey’s since it opened its doors in 1952. Steger’s in-laws actually provided McCabe a place to stay while he was in pharmaceutical school in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, Steger was one of the many local customers who visited McCabe and his staff to wish them luck, grab a hug and even to get some last-minute items.
“It’s heartbreaking. The unique relationship with Stan, the girls, the customers … it’s just wonderful and I am going to miss that the most. It’ll never be the same … not without Stan,” Steger said.
Another faithful customer who stopped by on closing day was West Ocean City resident Debbie Gabbert, who has been coming to Bailey’s for 11 years ever since a corporate pharmacy in the area made a mistake with her prescription.
“I really like this place and I feel comfortable here. I trust Stanley and that’s important to me,” Gabbert said. “I am worried about where I’m going to go now.”
Bailey’s Pharmacy was started by Halcolm Bailey in 1952 and has been in the same location ever since. Bailey and McCabe’s relationship began seven years later when McCabe first started working for him. Eventually, Bailey sold the store to McCabe in 1973 and has owned it ever since.
Property owner Amanda Cropper was on hand on Tuesday to personally bid farewell to McCabe and Bailey’s. The property was formally a parking garage and in 1952 her father, Lester Esham, built the shopping center. Bailey’s is the only remaining original tenant.
“We’ve only had two pharmacists in 59 years — Halcolm Bailey was the first and then Stanley. Coming here is like coming home, and it’s been nice,” the emotional Cropper said Tuesday. “It’s tough, this is a hard day … it’s been on this corner since 1952. That’s big and I hate to see it go, but I understand. I’ve never gone anywhere else to do my regular drugstore shopping. With Stanley, you were always guaranteed he was going to give you whatever information you needed to have with your medication. If you had questions, he would always help you as far as he could. He had a very solid presence.”
McCabe’s wife, Martha, was on hand Tuesday for the final day, welcoming customers as well. She said her husband knew what he wanted to do when he was in the seventh grade and he was able to accomplish that as a career pharmacist.
“Everybody comes in here to see Stanley and it’s special in that way,” she said. “This is a special, special place, but this is best for him, and I’m glad he’s doing something for himself for once. He has always done things for other people, and this is the best decision for him.”
Although it’s been four decades since it was offered, all who discussed Bailey’s this week recalled the old soda fountain days. McCabe said that was taken out in 1970, but it provided a lot of memories in the early years.
“There were eight to 10 people who would come in every day for the soda fountain. It was a gathering place. Grace Parker would get here at 6:30 to make the coffee, and we would open at 8 and it was a great spot to hear about everything in town,” McCabe said.
McCabe added, jokingly, “They would have all the problems of the world solved by 8 in the morning.”
John Trader, who grew up nearby on 6th Street and was a close family member of Halcolm Bailey, recalls how Bailey’s Pharmacy “was the center of the universe” in Ocean City when he was growing up.
“Back then, 8th Street really was the center of the universe, and Bailey’s was the meeting place in the mornings and lunch. There was no big commercial grocery store, no branded gasoline station, no branded restaurants, no branded anything … ” Trader said. “It was such a tiny town then and Bailey’s was an integral part of it. All of the old characters used to wander through there and it was really something.”
Trader recalled fond memories of McCabe and the relationship he had with Bailey, in particular the personal touch they both kept with their customers.
“Halcolm loved him, they were very, very close,” Trader said. “My mother died a year and a half ago, and Stanley would drop off her prescriptions at her house every week on his way home. It’s not just the end of an era, it’s the end of an industry with the independent pharmacies.”
Looking ahead and back this week, McCabe understands the impact Bailey’s has had on many locals.
“We’ve had a very pleasant reaction [from the community] actually. People are sorry to see us close but they understand why. They express their displeasure at me closing, but they’re not mad at me. I’m doing this for me and I think they have accepted it and they will have to get used to a different way of getting their prescriptions,” McCabe said. “I know I have enjoyed it and still do actually. I wouldn’t have done it all these years if I didn’t.”
Longtime employees Cropper, Hutchinson and Redden all agreed what they are going to miss the most with Bailey’s Pharmacy’s closing.
“It’s going to be Stanley and Martha and the customers,” Hutchinson said. “We are a family and they are all great days here.”
As for their futures, Redden said, “I’m going to pray.” Cropper said, “I’m going to take the winter and then I will probably find something part-time in the summer, but I’m sure it’s not going to work out. We are all spoiled here.”
As for McCabe and his future plans, all he knows at this point is it includes retirement.
“I’m going to be retired. I have no plans whatsoever,” McCabe said. “We’ll travel some, I’m sure … I haven’t really given what I’m going to do after I retire a whole lot of thought, other than that I would like to retire.”