Darwin Morris closed the doors to Kay's Pharmacy for the last time Saturday.
The pharmacy has operated in the same location in downtown Harlem for nearly 80 years.
"It is like a piece of the community dying. I really do hate to see it close," said Barbara Knox, an Appling resident who has patronized Kay's for nearly 48 years. "You don't get that personal service like we had from Kay's Pharmacy."
Deciding to close the store was not a decision Morris, its owner and operator since 1991, made quickly or lightly. Closing is the result of financial hardships created by the Medicare prescription drug plan instituted in January 2006, he said.
"I worked real hard trying to put something together to stay here in Harlem," Morris said. His business has weathered other trials over the years, he said.
Morris will start his new job Monday as a pharmacist at Fred's in Grovetown. Kay's customer files will move with Morris to Fred's, and the store is purchasing some of Kay's inventory, Morris said.
Like many Kay's customers, Knox said she plans to follow Morris to Fred's for her prescription needs.
"I am sure that he is going to still be himself and have a personal relationship with customers that come in there, and I don't want to miss that," Knox said.
It was that dedication to his customers and personal service that made Morris and his store unique. Knox said that more often than not, Morris delivered her prescriptions to her Appling home and has even opened the store and delivered items she needed after hours.
"It is that typical community mentality," Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said. Morris was known for his personal attention to his customers. "He was a hands-on learner of the business where he got to meet with his customers and he got to touch his customers and they got to know him and they got to be friendly with him, and that is something that is going to be missed."
Morris bought the pharmacy 17 years ago from its namesake, Dr. James Kay. Kay was not the first operator of the pharmacy - he took it over in 1959. The pharmacy has been in business in the building adjacent to the railroad tracks since 1929, Morris said.
"It shakes the store every time it comes by," Morris said of the train that runs next to his building at 202 N. Louisville St. "But I've gotten used to it."
Like Morris, Dave Thompson, the owner of Coach Dave's Barber Shop, bought a long-running downtown business. He said he would see Morris along the sidewalks or in Kay's when he went for a soda.
"He is going to be missed," Thompson said.
Closing the store is sad, and working in a chain store might take adjustments, Morris said, but leaving his business to work for another has its benefits. The health insurance is much more affordable and he won't have the stress of ownership.
"If I can detune myself to try to not get involved with everybody personally," Morris said. "I think I still will. I deliver to a lot of my customers. There's not too many businesses where the CEO of the corporation is doing the deliveries."
It is Morris' personal touch that Knox expects him to spread to customers at Fred's.
Dean said Morris was appreciated by many of the town's elderly or homebound residents to whom he delivered prescriptions and other items. Others will pick up where Morris left off, he said.
"There will be some (residents) that will have to be coordinated and folks that will have to have medicines picked up for them," Dean said. "That is just what community is all about. You just have to pick up, find somebody to strap on the boots and help them out."
Morris said that beginning Monday, the store's inventory will be counted and what Fred's is purchasing will be moved to the Grovetown store. Morris' wife, Marcie, who owns The Farmer's Daughter antiques store across the street, might use the site for storage until plans are made for the building.
"We're just going to take our time and see what we want to do with it. We have our pecan business we do during the holiday season; we're still going to do that," Morris said. The Tracy-Luckey pecans that his store normally sells probably will be sold from Farmer's Daughter Antiques.
Knox said Morris was close to his customers because he got to know them and treated them like family over the years.
"Darwin has blessed me many times with his caring service for us and his thoughtfulness in bringing our prescriptions or whatever we called and asked him to bring," Knox said. "It is a blessing I won't have any more. ... We've been blessed in this day and time, to have someone who ran a pharmacy like that."
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