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Sutton’s Drug Store Celebrates 90 Years In Business

Sutton's Drug Store in downtown Chapel Hill.
courtesy of Sutton's Drug Store

Ask any long-time Chapel Hill resident to name a few of the town’s business icons, and Sutton’s Drug Store is likely to come up. Founded in 1923, the old fashioned pharmacy has been open for 90 years and celebrates that fact today with a special deal for its customers: from 11:00 to 4:30, hot dogs, Cokes and French fries will be only a nickel, reflecting the store’s 1923 prices. They’re expecting several hundreds of customers.

“We ordered 1500 hot dog buns,” owner John Woodard says, in preparation for the day’s business. And if that’s not enough, he says they’ve alerted their bread delivery man that they might call him for more.

Sutton’s Drug Store is a pharmacy with an old fashioned soda fountain, a diner and drug store in one.  Red bar stools on silver poles line the soda fountain counter, where you can order breakfast or lunch or a drink with their famous crushed ice.

John Woodard bought the store in 1977. He made a few changes in the ‘80’s: expanding the soda fountain, adding more seating, expanding the menu, and using fresh meat instead of frozen, and “It just took off after that,’ he says. “Especially when we started putting pictures of customers up.” Now, patrons come into the store to see their friends’ faces on the walls while they’re eating lunch or filling a prescription.

“We’ve become one of the destinations on the block,” Woodard claims. One any given day, they might see students studying for exams or friends socializing at the lunch counter. The store is a favorite among UNC Chapel Hill students and alumni, and the school’s logo adorns the walls. This short video made in 2010 features customers explaining what they like about the place:

When asked about plans for the future, Woodard says he’ll stick to what’s worked. “We seem to have found the right formula,” he says, “so we won’t tinker with that.”

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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