Written by Julian Rankin | Photographed by Paul Wolf
Beemon Drugs is such a special place to owner Lester Hailey that he wanted to walk down the drugstore aisle when he married his wife, Ellen, in 2009. She wouldn’t have it, so they settled for a parking lot ceremony outside aboard the Fondren Trolley.
Beemon Drugs, in Maywood Mart shopping center off Northside Drive in Lefleur East, is the oldest independently operated pharmacy in Jackson. It has been around since 1956, when Mr. Beemon and Mr. Brent of Brent’s Drugs opened the location, complete with the signature soda fountain, which has since become a greeting card shop. Hailey began working there in 1977, fresh out of pharmacy school. About fifteen years ago, he took ownership of the business, keeping alive the mom-and-pop tradition of putting people first.
“We have great patients,” says Hailey. “We perform a need for them to be accessible and to know them and to love them. It’s rewarding when you can help somebody. Make a difference in somebody’s life.”
The franchised stores that dominate the landscape fall short of Beemon’s when it comes to character and charm. Hailey’s pharmacists are consistently on call and know their customers by name. Beemon’s delivery man, Rowan (affectionately known as Row), has been running the roads for more than 50 years. Hailey’s children – and many other young people – grew up in and worked shifts at the pharmacy.
“It’s a great group of kids we’ve had through the years… They come in kind of shy, and they leave not shy anymore! And they’ve learned a lot,” Hailey points out. Those kids, now grown, keep coming back as patrons. They tell their own children about their first jobs and about their first boss.
“I’m seeing third generations now of people who had children and then grandchildren,” Hailey says. “All training with me. It’s really fun to see that.”
If anything, Beemon Drugs has become busier in recent years, in part due to laws in Medicare that have given more people access to prescription drugs. Increased regulations have put demands on Hailey and his staff, but they don’t bat an eye.
“I try not to sweat the small stuff,” says Hailey. “Only thing worse than a full parking lot is an empty one.”
With more than half a dozen adjacent restaurants and easy interstate access, the drug store is usually packed at lunch. Because he knows his customers and their cars by heart, Hailey tries to have their prescriptions ready by the time cross the threshold.
For that reason, Beemon Drugs is a LeFleur East landmark that is many things to many people. Hailey’s wife, a pharmacist at the VA Medical Center who also worked at Beemon’s in high school, shops for the gifts and boutique items in the front of the store. In back, near the greeting cards, Hailey proudly displays photography from his son, artist Josh Hailey. “We support local things,” Hailey says. “We’re always on stage, ready to talk.”
Lester Hailey humbly admits he doesn’t quite know how they’ve been able to survive so long, in the age of chain stores and mail-order prescriptions. The answer is simple. Everyone at Beemon Drugs cares about the folks who walk in the door. And they’ll serve the people for as long as they’re able.
“We’re a dinosaur,” Hailey adds. “But they’ve been extinct a long time and people still love them.”