Economy Drug, Ely’s historic pharmacy and soda fountain, has been celebrating its 70th birthday this year. The store was first opened on July 4, 1946, by Dale Miller, the grandfather of the current owner, pharmacist Andy Bath.
The store still fronts a soda fountain and counter reminiscent of a ‘50s diner, that serves ice cream, daily specials, Lime Rickey, a drink made from lime juice, simple syrup and carbonated water, and a famous tuna fish sandwich.
“It’s the best sandwich you can find,” said April Bath, the store’s office manager. “It’s made with love.”
Miller, who has a chapter dedicated to him in the book, “Mining our Richest Veins,” a time that details the lives of 11 historic Ely residents and published by the Ely Renaissance Society, was raised in Ely but later to moved to San Diego, where he graduated from San Diego State University. He couldn’t find work due to the Depression, so he attended graduate school at UCLA, but he didn’t have money to live on so he moved to Ruth where he got a job as a pharmacist’s assistant. He studied the pharmacy business and later took the state test to be a pharmacist, which he passed, receiving his license in 1940. When World War II broke out, Miller joined the navy as a pharmacist’s mate.
He was stationed at Mare Island in the San Francisco Bay Area, and around that time a friend he worked with at Ruth Drug introduced him to her friend who became his wife. Soon after they had a daughter, Margaret, who would later take over Economy Drug.
Miller returned to Ely when the war ended, Economy Drug was for sale, and Miller joined with four other pharmacists to purchase the business, with Miller becoming the managing partner. Miller eventually bought his partners out and became sole proprietor of the business.
Twice Miller’s pharmacy was burned down, the last time in 1957, just as Margaret Bath had graduated from pharmacy school and they went into business together.
Margaret was also a popular figure in town, embracing her father’s penchant for civic duty, volunteerism and the promotion of education.
“She was a pioneer woman,” said April Bath. “There were not many women business owners in White Pine County then.”
Margaret oversaw the business until 2012, when she retired, but she would still “trickle” in and assist with the store as her son, Andy Bath, took over.
“Margaret was amazing,” said April. “She would donate to every cause available.”
Margaret was on the founding committee to build the local college, she was a founding member of the Ely Renaissance Society, a board member of the White Pine Public Museum, and she helped with the building of the memorial garden at St. Bartholomew Church.
She was also a founding member for the CACH, the Committee Against Child Hunger.
Margaret passed away in March of this year.
But 70 years later, Miller and Margaret’s legacy continues to inspire as Economy Drug has become a staple in the Ely community, serving its residents in every way imaginable.
“It’s still a hometown treasure,” said April. “People still travel home to visit and this is the first place they come to. It’s pretty much the same menu as it has always been.”
A third generation pharmacist, Andy grew up in the pharmacy, always knowing it was where he wanted to be. He joined the family business after graduation from pharmacy school and has never looked back.
“I love the people, I love seeing all the people in the community, I love seeing their families, people that I’ve know from my childhood,” he said. “And now I get to help them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Sharing the same altruistic spirit as his mother and grandfather, Andy said that being their for the people of Ely and being able to help them is what he lives for.
“Just because I kind of grew up in the pharmacy, I’ve always had a strong appreciation for the impact a pharmacist can make on a person’s health,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go into medicine somewhere and I always felt like this was somewhere that I could be the most beneficial.”
Andy said he felt that it was the stability of the store over the years, being a business the community could count on, that was an important factor in being a good community neighbor. He said, too, that it was important that businesses “pay back” the community, which Economy Drug takes a lead role in doing for the people of Ely, partaking in every fundraiser possible, supporting local organizations and striving to keep at least two local high school students employed in the store to help teach them the importance of work and hopefully to be role models in the future.
“Education for our younger generation is so important,” Andy said, noting that it was the same theme his mother and grandfather strived to pursue.
Having sustained a business model of appreciation for the community they serve, the Baths have also been the beneficiaries of a cadre of loyal employees that have enjoyed long careers at Economy Drug; Shari Martin — 24 years, Elsa Bohrn —19 years, Cheryl Thompson — 12 years and many more that have been there over 10 years.
“We’re lucky to have such great employees,” said April. “This is home for us. We want to see Ely thrive.”
“We feel we need to be as invested in the community as possible,” said Andy.
Both April and Andy felt that the store was continually developing, and as time has gone on, the products they sell and the services they provide have expanded as well. A toy store in the basement of the building takes visitors back to a time of their childhood, similar to the diner upstairs, with a stockpile of original games, dolls, action figures and creative and educational playthings, some that date back to the 1950s, ‘60s or earlier. The toy store is a must-see for anyone traveling to Ely and even locals are amazed by it.
“We’ve tried to evolve with the times,” said April, noting that in the 1990s, they realized Ely needed a toy store. “Margaret brought in whatever people were in need of.”
The modern pharmacy also now provides free delivery of all prescriptions and has started to offer immunization and flu shots. They’re also starting to stock durable medical equipment to assist in day to day activities, whether that be crutches, lift chairs or braces. In addition to prescription medication, there are aisles of natural remedies and everyday bath accessories, all with the goal of promoting a vigorous style of living.
While the prosperity of the town has ebbed and flowed through the last 70 years, Economy Drug has endured the good times and the bad along with the people they have served.
“When the mine closed, we felt the strain,” said April. “But we knew we needed to continue the business here to keep this community going. Dale, Margaret and Andy are very community oriented. They always have had Ely as their first thought and how they can improve Ely and make it a place people want to live.”
“We think of our customers as family,” Andy said. “We hope to be here another 70 years to provide service to our community members and help them lead a healthy lifestyle.”
With three generations of family maintaining the friendly,helpful atmosphere of Economy Drug for 70 years now, a fourth generation is being raised by Andy and April, who have two children, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old.
“The 6-year-old wants to change occupations every week, but he still wants to make people feel better like his dad does,” said April. “Our 3-year-old wants to work here for the ice cream.”