By Kevin Wilson
Roden-Smith Pharmacy started nearly 60 years ago just after World War II as a drug store. After two changes of address and countless products and services, it will survive as a pharmacy as its adjoining gift store will close its doors at the end of September.
“It’s been a good run,” owner and operator Bruce Gray said Wednesday from his office overlooking its spacious Llano Estacado location, where it has been since 1999.
The store will spend the next few weeks in a retirement closeout sale, with some of its top-of-the-line furniture already marked with “Sold” tags and a portion of the back wall that includes wedding registry packages for five Clovis couples.
Around Oct. 1, the 17,000 square feet will be renovated as an expansion of the two-year-old Paradise Market grocery store with plans for an Oct. 29 grand opening.
According to all parties — Gray, Bill Bargman of Paradise Market and David Lansford of the pharmacy — the overall operation of the pharmacy on the building’s west side won’t change, though Lansford said some cosmetic changes are possible.
In early 1946, Cretney Drug rested on the corner of Fourth and Main, one of a chain of Chetney stores across New Mexico and Texas. The owner of the chain died unexpectedly in his 40s, leaving behind a spouse with neither the experience nor desire to run it.
Not too long after, Clovis manager Bob Smith partnered with J.R. Roden. In July, the store was then operated as the name is still carries today.
It was around 1970 when Gray came to Clovis from Minnesota. He came to operate another pharmacy, a Walgreens at 14th and Main, but soon decided ownership was the better path for him and his wife Pam.
“I kind of liked Clovis,” Gray said, “and decided it was time to stay around.”
The Grays took over the store Feb. 1, 1972, and later took over a second pharmacy about two years later when the operator of a store at Hilltop Plaza just up and left.
The next few years were frustrating, Gray said, because it was difficult to run two stores and his predecessor’s departure left a bad taste in the mouths of many customers.
Roden-Smith eventually packed up and moved to the Hilltop location, Gray said, because it was the better business move, until space started to become an issue in the 1990s.
By that time, the store had been through many changes. The Grays were also operating Pam’s Hallmark in North Plains Mall — a store originally opened by the Hallmark chain, then later taken over by the Grays — and the pharmacy was sold to Lansford in 1995.
It was a good decision by Lansford, Gray said. At the time of the purchase, Clovis had 11 pharmacies, and now Roden-Smith is one of just three. It was also a good partnership that continues today.
“We’ve just had a good, good working relationship,” Gray said. “We’ve worked well together and each of was able to keep our commitments.”
The decision to move to Llano Estacado and create Roden Smith Village seemed like a no-brainer to Gray, who needed more operating room than Hilltop could reasonably accomodate to expand the gift shop and felt Llano Estacado was a great location.
“We had the widest street in Clovis in front of us,” Gray said, “and we had Prince Street a block away from us.”
Additionally, people used to the store’s downtown location and unwilling to deal with Prince Street traffic could instead take the less-traveled Wallace Street.
The business changed products over the years, with some products leaving due to a depressed market and other leaving due to other competition.
Gray has several hand-carved wood and porcelain figures in the upstairs area, a remnant to the days before the bottom fell out of those markets.
Additionally, the store had an account with Chanel and other cosmetics companies, but abandoned those efforts when Dillard’s came into town. By that time, though, Gray said the business had enough diversity in products that it could still survive.
Bruce Gray said Pam wants to retire and he doesn’t trust himself to take over her role or try to select furniture and decor as well as she did. Bruce Gray may work a few days a week in the pharmacy to stay busy.
The store closure was a plan set in motion years ago, with Paradise Market as a key component. Bargman said the plan was to start with a small natural food grocery store that carried a lower risk than a full-blown store, then possibly expand when the Grays hung it up.
“When we originally designed Paradise Market,” Bargman said, “we overbuilt our bakery and our refrigerated area, and we built our meat counter in the back so we could (eventually) have a continuous counter.”
The expanded grocery store will have the registers moved to the main entrance, Bargman said, with the increased space mainly used to house the name brand items people would see in standard supermarkets. Other offerings will include lottery tickets and money transfer services.
The current Roden-Smith positions, about half a dozen, will be eliminated with the transition, while Paradise Market plans to increase its employee total from 17 to at least 25.