Tom Touchton was only about 6 years old when he began working at Touchton Drug Store, in the heart of Dade City.
He went to work there because his brother, Charlie, who is 3 ½ years older, already was working there.
“I figured if he could work there, I could work there,” said Tom, who decades later would become a prime mover in the creation of the Tampa Bay History Center in downtown Tampa.
When he started at the store, Tom was just tall enough to wash dishes.
“At some point, I was promoted to be permitted to clean tables. And then, at another point, I was promoted to be permitted to make sodas and sundaes,” he said.
Later on, he was given the privilege of making tuna salad, chicken salad and ham salad sandwiches, he said.
“Charlie had done all of these things before because he was older, and I was always trying to measure up to my older brother,” Tom said.
His brother, Charlie, has fond recollections of working in the store.
Both men will share their experiences, and what they gleaned from them, on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m., as part of a series of talks being offered by The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village. The talks coincide with the museum hosting a traveling Smithsonian Institution Exhibit called “The Way We Worked.”
Touchton Drug Store was a busy place, Charlie recalled.
At first, Charlie said, “I worked behind the soda fountain, and I washed dishes and I made cokes, and I made sundaes and I made sodas.
Coca-Colas were by far the most popular drink, he said.
“It was automatic, if it was Coca-Cola. You turned a handle. It fed the syrup. It fed the carbonated beverage,” he said. “If it was anything else, you had to squirt the syrup.”
People could buy cherry Cokes and lime Cokes, even ammonia Cokes, which were said to relieve headaches.
Charlie said he was taught early on not to mix ammonia with grape juice because that would create a poison.
Selling cosmetics was fun
“Not until I was about 12 or 13, did I really get on to the sundries and goods side,” Charlie added, noting he especially enjoyed selling cosmetics.
“It was a great place to flirt,” he explained. Revlon lipstick, at that time, sold for $2 a tube.
Both men credit their work at the drug store for teaching them important, lifelong lessons.
It taught them how to relate to people from all walks of life, and about the importance of customer service.
“The same things I learned in the drug store became relevant, whether you’re selling a product or you’re selling an idea,” Charlie said.
“In a small town, the customer is always right because your livelihood depended on those customers,” Tom said. “If they didn’t have a good experience at Touchton Drug Store, then they would go up the street to another drug store.”
He recalled a customer, named Mr. Ways, who refused to pay a newly instituted state sales tax.
“I went to my grandfather and said, ‘What do I do? Mr. Ways is going to leave if I charge him sales tax.’ My grandfather pulled two pennies out of his pocket and gave them to me, ‘You just ring up 52 cents, you take 50 cents from Mr. Ways and here’s the other two cents.’”
The store was learning how to deal with the new tax, and keeping that customer was important, Tom said.
Building relationships, in any kind of transactional business, is essential, said Charlie, noting that his drug store experiences came in handy when he worked for IBM.
Developing sales skills
At the drug store, Charlie learned about the art of subtle marketing and about the concept of upselling.
It was customary to keep items on the counter, such as toothbrushes and Whitman’s candy, within easy reach of customers, Charlie said. The idea was to give them a chance to see and touch items, he said.
Suggestive selling was a way to move products.
“When somebody was there to get something, (Charlie would say) ‘By the way, do you need a toothbrush?’
“If the person said, ‘As a matter of fact, I do,’” Charlie said, “you’d get out another one and say, ‘You’d better get two.’”
Or, he’d ask a customer: “Do you think you’d want a box of Whitman candy today?”
At that time, the candy was $2 a box, he said.
Customers could buy a Hershey bar or a single-scoop ice cream cone for a nickel, decades ago. Comic books were a dime. A pack of cigarettes went for 20 cents, Charlie said.
People would come to the drug store for prescriptions and nonprescription medicines. They’d pick up bandages, shoe polish, cosmetics and other personal needs items.
Tom said the strong work ethic he has subscribed to his entire life began when he was just 6, working in the drug store.
“I am 78 years old. If I have to work at night, or I need to come in here on Saturday to get things done because of other things that I did during the week, then you just do. There is no 9 to 5. “You stay up as late as you have to, to get it done, or you get to work as early as you have to, or you work on the weekends because it has to be done.
“You work when you need to, to get the job done,” Tom said.
Charlie said the lessons he learned at the drug store, about being trustworthy and having integrity, have stuck with him for life, too.
The Way We Worked lecture series
What: The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, in conjunction with the Florida Humanities Council, is presenting a series of lectures, in conjunction with the museum’s display of the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, “The Way We Worked.”
Where: Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City
Cost: Admission to the museum is $8 for adults; $6 for seniors; $4 for students, 6 through 18; and free for age 5 and younger.
Details: The speaker schedule is as follows:
- Imani Asukile, “The Odell Mickens Story,” Feb. 16, 6 p.m.
- Tom & Charlie Touchton, “Touchton Drug Store,” Feb. 18, 2 p.m.
- Madonna Wise, “Women and Work,” March 2, 6 p.m.
- Dr. Steven Noll, “The Way We Worked, FL,” March 4, 2 p.m.
- Nancy Massey Perkins, “Hometown Barber,” March 7, 2 p.m.
- Scott Black, “All the Live Long Day (Railroad),” March 9, 6 p.m.
“The Way We Worked” exhibit will be at the museum through March 18. The museum’s regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Revised February 27, 2017