History


Thomas Drug Store Meyersdal PA
The First Generation

Frank B. Thomas, Sr. (Founder)
George Washington Thomas (Brother of the Founder)
J. Karl Poling (Brother-in-Law of the Founder)

Frank B. Thomas, Sr., was born on August 16, 1875, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to Joseph G. Thomas, a decorated veteran of the Civil War, and Ellen Dull Thomas. The family survived the great Johnstown Flood of 1889, and Frank went on to study pharmacy and apothecary at the Ohio Normal College (now Ohio Northern University), in Ada, Ohio, where he met his wife, Claire Poling. In the spring of 1896, Frank obtained his Graduate of Pharmacy degree and returned to western Pennsylvania, seeking to open his own store. He arrived in the bustling town of Meyersdale. Situated on the mainline of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and ringed by coal mines, factories, and farms, Meyersdale boomed at the end of the nineteenth century. The population topped 5,000, making it the largest town in Somerset County and its center of commerce and culture. In March 1896, Frank Thomas purchased a small apothecary shop, inventory, and fixtures from W. M. Kilgus for $2,900. It was located near the northwest corner of Center and Main Streets, part of the present-day G.C. Murphy building. Assisted by his oldest brother, John A. Thomas, Frank opened F.B. Thomas & Brother, Druggists and Apothecaries, on April 1, 1896. John, however, soon fell gravely ill and returned to Johnstown. Replacing him was Frank’s youngest brother, George Washington Thomas. After working for his brother for a few years, George also enrolled in pharmacy program at Ohio Northern College, eventually acquiring his own store in Johnstown. J. Karl Poling, Frank's brother-in-law, helped operate the store from 1898 to 1930 and again from 1932 to 1940.
In 1900 F.B. Thomas & Brother moved to 134 Center Street, a building previously occupied by a German Anabaptist newspaper. There the Thomases sold clocks and hats, pens and stationery, occasionally filling a prescription or two. Frank Thomas also served hand-turned ice cream and sodas from his own recipes. His ice cream business grew so large that he had to construct two ice houses and employ a crew of men throughout the winter to cut ice from the Casselman River and Flaugherty Creek. Indeed, the Thomas Drug Store soda fountain remained the social heart of the community until Adrian Thomas, Frank’s grandson, removed it in 1976. Also, in the days before the automobile, Frank was a kind of mechanic. He was particularly fond of horses, and horse owners would often bring their sick animals to the back door of the store so Frank could treat them. Even more than horses, though, Frank loved horse racing. He was founding member of the Somerset County Fair and promoter of horse racing at the fairgrounds in Meyersdale.


The Second Generation

Frank B. Thomas, Jr. (Son of the Founder)
Joseph N. Thomas (Son of the Founder)

By the time Frank B. Thomas Jr. graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 1925 and joined his father operating the family business, F.B. Thomas Drug Store was by far the leading pharmacy in the area. Indeed in the late 1920’s, Frank Jr. built an addition to the rear of the store, almost doubling its size. He and his brother Joseph N. “Joe” Thomas, also a pharmacist, inherited the store upon the elder Frank’s death in 1932. The store survived the Great Depression and World War II, when Meyersdale's Western Union telegraph office was located in Thomas Drug Store. Frank, Jr., had the unpleasant task of informing families when a local boy showed up on the casualty list. In 1943 Joe sold his share of the business to Frank Jr., in order to open his own Rexall drug store franchise and soda fountain. Joseph’s Corner Drug Store was located at the northeast corner of Main and Center streets. With Thomas drug stores anchoring either end, the east side of Center Street became known as "Thomas Block." By the time Frank B. Thomas Jr. graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 1925, F.B. Thomas Drug Store was by far the leading pharmacy in the area. The drug store continued to grown under Frank Jr., surviving the Great Depression and World War II. Indeed, in the late 1920’s, Frank Jr. built an addition to the rear of the store, almost doubling its size. Frank Jr.’s brother, Joseph, opened his own pharmacy and soda fountain in Meyersdale on the corner of Main and Center, opposite the original location of Thomas Drug Store.


The Third Generation

Adrian A. Thomas (Grandson of the Founder)

In 1958, Frank Jr.’s son Adrian A. Thomas graduated from the Duquesne University School of Pharmacy and soon became the third generation of Thomases to own the store. During the 1970’s, the steel and coal economy in western Pennsylvania hit rock bottom, and the population of Meyersdale dwindled to just over 2,000. With an aging population, prescription volume at the drugstore increased while receipts from the soda fountain decreased. Joseph Thomas retired a decade before, leaving the other Thomas Drug Store as the only pharmacy in the area. In 1976 Adrian made a difficult decision: to remove the soda fountain in order to increase the size of the pharmacy and sales floor. In 1983, the drug store expanded once again, this time into a neighboring building, increasing the store’s size by nearly a third. Throughout the ’70’s and ’80’s store closings left Thomas Drug Store as the anchor retailer in the central business district. While the economic horizon brightened, Thomas Drug Store filled its one-millionth prescription in 1997. (Frank Sr. had been numbering the prescriptions since he opened the store.) By 1999 the pharmacy burst at the seams. Without room to expand in its existing location, Adrian Thomas and his wife, Anna Ruth, decided to build an entirely new store on Main Street. That building opened in the spring of 2000 and was nearly four times as large as the all the existing structures combined. The new location not only serves residents of the Meyersdale area, but is situated only a few blocks from the Meyersdale trailhead on the Great Allegheny Passage hiking and biking trail.


The Fourth Generation

Andrew O. Thomas (Great Grandson of the Founder)
Stephanie Miller Thomas (Great Granddaughter-in-law of the Founder)
Alex Thomas (Great Grandson of the Founder)

In 1996 a fourth generation of Thomases received pharmacy degrees: Alex, from Midwestern University, and Andrew, from Duquesne University. Andrew soon began working with his father and, in October 2011, took over ownership of the store with his wife, Stephanie Miller Thomas, yet another graduate of the Ohio-Northern University School of Pharmacy. Thomas Drug Store is, simply put, a survivor. It remains today one of the nation’s oldest family-owned, family-operated drug stores, downtown Meyersdale’s premier retailer, and one of the area’s largest employers. The business has survived numerous economic downturns and two world wars. Yet despite cutthroat competition from discount retail and mail-order pharmacies, the drug store continues to thrive, due largely to that friendly and reliable customer service the Thomases have been known for 116 years.


The Thomas Drug Store Soda Fountain:  Social Heart of Meyersdale, PA

Among the older townspeople, Thomas Drug Store is most fondly remembered for its soda fountain. Between the store's opening and the mid-1970s, the soda fountain was the social heart of the community.
The first soda fountain was portable, placed on the counter beside and ornate root beer barrel. Frank, Sr., owned two of the largest ice houses in the area. He employed many men during the winter to cut ice off the Casselman River and place it in the ice house where it was insulated with sawdust. This supplied the soda fountain with enough ice to keep the drinks and ice cream cold throughout the summer.
Frank, Sr., installed a second, permanent soda fountain in 1910. Frank, Jr., installed another soda fountain decades later. Before World War II, Frank Jr. made his own ice cream, often staring at 5 a.m. to prepare enough ice cream for the afternoon and evening. He stopped making his own ice cream when the federal government rationed sugar for the war effort.
The soda fountain was busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, especially after the Roxy and the State theaters' feature movies. Yet even on school days, Thomas Drug Store was a hub of youth culture. At that time children were allowed off school property for lunch and would often gather at the soda fountain.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the economy in Meyersdale began to falter. The coal mines closed and farms went bankrupt. The population decreased by half and along with it, the crowds that gathered at the soda fountain. Adrian had to make a decision either to operate a soda fountain or a drug store. He decided to run a drug store. Besides, it was getting harder and harder to find a pharmacist who could make a decent milk shake.
The soda fountain was removed in 1976, ending not only a great chapter of Thomas Drug Store history, but of community history. The end of the soda fountain marked the end of the Norman Rockwell small town.


The Great Fire:  Taking a Stand Against Tobacco

On February 27, 1992, Thomas Drug Store became world famous, and Adrian became a hero. He order his employees to take the store's entire stock of tobacco products, over $2,000 worth, into the back parking lot. He then ignited his tobacco selling license and torched the enormous pile of cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco. That night, the story aired on television and radio stations across the country. The next morning the image of Adrian standing before the flaming pile of tobacco appeared in papers around the world. From CNN to the New York Times, Adrian's action left an indelible image on the American conscience. Later, the Thomas family received hundreds of letters from people around the world who gave up smoking when they saw the story. For Adrian, the fire marked the end of an ethical battle in his own mind. How could any pharmacy treat medical problems in the back of the store and yet promote sickness in the front? A drug store, Adrian decided, was a center of healing, not a source of harm.