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Arenson's Pharmacy
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
May 7, 2012
Mark Arenson
    Account: Early Drug Stores in Annandale

Mark’s parents, George and Maureen Arenson, purchased a Rexall Drug Store in Annandale in 1971. The drug store was on the northwest corner of Oak Avenue and Chestnut Street in a building which is now the All Things Good gift shop. Mark was ten years old when the family moved from Ohio to Annandale.

George Arenson, a pharmacist since 1955-56, graduated from North Dakota State University and served as an Army pharmacist for a few years. Annandale was a small town with a vibrant downtown. Every little town had a drug store or two. The customer had choices, and there was competition. This was before the big box stores, mail orders and internet orders.  In a short time more space was needed. Neil Bahr owned a large building across the street from the first Arenson’s drug store. George Arenson rented one-half and later purchased the building from Neil Bahr. The move was accomplished in one Saturday night.  A friend, Ross Eggestein, was director of the Camp Challenge group home for veterans at Swartout Lake. Ross Eggestein and the Camp Challenge residents transferred the merchandise in shopping carts and wheelbarrows across the street. Arenson’s was open for business in the new location in one day.

Former Tenants:  The Bahr building was built in 1929 and was used as a bus garage until the 1950s when the buses were moved to a different location. Neil Bahr (1907-1991) purchased the bus service from his father in 1934 and sold it in 1973. The building had two garage doors opening to the main street. Tires were stored in the basement. Modifications were made to the building in the 1970s. There were about 14 apartments in the building.  Some longtime residents were Mrs. O’Loughlin, Mrs. Johnson and Rose Lee. Neil Bahr rented space in the north side of the building to several tenants. Mary McAlpin had a beauty shop to the left of the door. There was also a one chair barber shop in space rented by Virgil Johnson (later Virgil Johnson acquired a vacant lot across the street and built a shop, now State farm Insurance). There also had been a shoe store in the building. John Meyer, a draftsman, rented space. Jim Caswell had the Village Fix It shop in the building. Mark found a survey in the basement that showed that at one time there was a gas pump on the Bahr building’s side parking lot. Elwyn Nordberg, Annandale photographer, rented space for his studio in the lower level of Arenson’s for 17 years (1971-1988).    

Employees:  George Arenson didn’t get many days off.  He worked long hours. The first pharmacist he hired stayed one year. In 1974 he hired a young man named Craig Bechtold. Craig Bechtold is still the head pharmacist at Arenson’s. Maureen Arenson was a cashier and clerk. She also assisted with accounting, billing, banking, displays, etc. George Arenson’s mother, Frances Arenson, also worked in the drug store. Henrietta “Penny” Anderson ran the front of the store and scheduled the workers. At one time the clerks wore pink and white striped smocks. A 1972 Arenson’s first anniversary photo includes George, Maureen and Frances Arenson, Penny Anderson, Joyce McCain and Helen Mattila.     

Soda Fountain:  Arenson’s had a fountain in the store featuring malts, sundaes and a 50-cent dish of ice cream. The 10-cent ice cream cone was a popular promotion. Friday nights were big, because Arenson’s was across the street from the Dale Theater (now Annandale Embroidery). The Dale Theater closed in 1976. The fountain was a lot of work. The fountain had been in the Candy Castle. The Candy Castle was in business from about the late 1940s to the late 1960s, when it became a pizza place owned by Russ Hart. Russ Hart sold the fountain to George Arenson. George Arenson tired of the fountain and sold it.  He later regretted it, because the fountain was beautiful and highly collectible. Arenson’s still serves ice cream cones in several favors.

Community Projects:  There was one doctor in town, Dr. Lester Bendix, who practiced in Annandale from 1930 to 1982. His office was across the street from Arenson’s. There was concern about medical care should Dr. Bendix decide to retire.  George Arenson worked with others on the drive to secure the Heart of the Lakes Clinic, which opened in 1974 with Dr. Mary Stiles. Dr. Stiles stayed until 1987, followed by Dr. Ronald Brown. This building is now occupied by Jeffrey Holmberg, DDS and Dr. Uecker, Chiropractor. Concern for senior members of the community resulted in the Annandale Care Center, a 60-bed facility that opened in 1982. Mark Arenson was a hockey player before there was a rink in Annandale. George Arenson and other businesses supported the hockey program. Arenson’s sponsored a softball team in the 1970s. Arenson’s had an old-fashioned awning until 1980 when the downtown canopy system was built to resemble Annandale in the 1890s. A June 7, 1980, Shop Talk publication featured a photo of downtown business people standing on and under the new canopy in front of Dayton’s furniture store.   

Promotions:  Myloe Loberg of the Annandale Advocate had a publication called Shop Talk. Annandale businessmen had once-a-month promotions, including ten-cent hot dog feeds, pumpkin pie, sweet corn in the park, Crazy Days, etc. If a business didn’t get an ad or money in, it didn’t participate in the promotion.  They also had Santa on Main Street with a photographer. There were drawings where participants must be present to win. Arenson’s also had in-store promotions and drawings. There were many ways to reach out to customers.

In 1981 Arenson's became a Snyder Drug store, and it transformed the way of doing business. It was a good fit for Arenson’s. Every week Snyder’s had a flyer or one page advertisement. Snyder’s Super Buys were very popular. Some people drove to all the Snyder’s stores to get the Super Buys. It was fun and generated business.             

Technology:  Written prescriptions needed to be organized and sorted. They were placed in numerical order in binders. There were racks of binders that covered the whole back of the pharmacy. Prescriptions needed to be kept for seven to ten years. Prescription labels were typed on a typewriter.

Arenson’s first computer had MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System). It was very crude and mainly printed labels. Prescriptions were on disks that looked like 45 rpm records. Each disk was one sided and held 500-700 entries. When it ran, it sounded like a hay baler. Arenson’s was one of the first pharmacies to have the system, and Mark was able to work with Arenson’s computer system while in college through a U of M work and study program. 

Inventory was done on a Sunday by Arenson’s employees and their kids. Dinner was served and they stayed until every item in the store was listed in a notebook. Then the listings required hours of bookkeeping. Now pharmacy inventory is calculated as orders are filled. It includes shelf control in the front of the store. Arenson’s has a Telxon handheld inventory scanner, and in four hours the store is counted. Their second computer was a QS1, which improved efficiency and bookkeeping.

A point-of-sale cash register system run by the pharmacy system saves on bookkeeping and helps intgegrate merchandise. There are 15 departments in the store. The pharmacy accounts for the majority of Arenson’s business. There was a celebration when Arenson’s reached the milestone of one million prescriptions filled.   

Pharmacists are not computer geeks. There is a lot of work and continuing education to learn how to use the equipment. In the past they did their own maintenance and upgrades. Now Arenson’s has their third computer system and the upgrades are done automatically from off site.    

An automated pill counting system was tried in the store. Many variables, such as weight and size of the pill, needed to be calibrated. Over time, it was easier to count the pills manually.

Now all records are electronic. Medicare Part D went into effect January 1, 2006. Pharmacies have to pay to participate, and they keep all the records for the government.        

Deliveries:  Every Tuesday a delivery took two to three hours to unload. The trucks came to the loading dock in back, and a 60 foot roller track was used to get the merchandise into the store. In 2002 a street was taken out to make room for the new Annandale City Hall, and trucks could no longer get to the back door. Now all the merchandise has to be unloaded from Oak Avenue (aka Main Street).


Mark Arenson started working for his dad in June 1981. George Arenson’s goals were to make the business better and to grow the business. 

When George Arenson wanted to retire in 1990, he offered the company to Mark and his brother, Jon. At the time Jon had other ideas, so Mark Arenson bought the business, becoming owner, operator and manager. Jon has been working in the business the last few years. Jon is a pharmacy technician and helps with customer deliveries, insurance billings, etc. George Arenson continues to advise Mark, and recently suggested a photo kiosk promotion of ten 10-cent prints on Mondays. 

Arenson’s Pharmacy was a private, independent drug store for ten years and was part of Snyder Drug for 26 years (1981-2007). Snyder Drug began to have problems and Mark noticed the change. In 2007 Arenson’s became affiliated with Health Mart, and the association brought many good things. In 2011 Arenson’s became affiliated with Thrifty White, a company that specializes in small town main street pharmacies. 

Mark brought a display of Arenson Pharmacy photos taken over the years.


Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary

Also see Account: Early Drug Stores in Annandale




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