This Was Then: Pearson’s Drug Store

Candy and toothpaste and ohh … that amazing soda fountain.

Courtesy Chris Baer

Pearson’s Drug Store was located in the part of the Arcade building occupied today by Sharky’s Cantina on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Druggist William H. Pearson (1870-1934) moved to Oak Bluffs with his family and his pharmacy business in the mid-1920s. His Oak Bluffs shop was perhaps best remembered for its soda fountain and his variety of tasty candies, but this early photo shows a few of his other products, including Colgate’s Dental Cream, Colgate Refill Shaving Stick, Russell’s Chocolates, and cigars. Pearson had operated drug stores in Lowell and Dorchester since the 1890s, but his final Vineyard venture lasted only for perhaps a decade before his death at the age of 64.

Pearson’s name and store lived on under a series of owners for decades after his death, selling medicines, film (and 24-hour photo-finishing service), sunglasses, beach toys, sandwiches, and lime rickeys into the 1970s.

Ms. Bert Owens, now of Mashpee, remembers:

“The Smith family operated it in the ’50s. My best childhood friend was their only daughter. They lived in an apartment upstairs, and we spent many hours playing in the large front room. They had a wonderful wind-up Victrola there, in a tall cabinet. They had a piano in the living room, and we would play “Chopsticks.” Mr. Smith had a great large radio in a cabinet, and we could hear radio from around the world, as I remember. He died around 1956, I believe.

“There was the pharmacy, and then the wonderful soda fountain, a long marble slab. We were into the ice cream after closing, when we were cleaning up. We had a great time making sodas, milkshakes, frappes, and decadent ice cream sundaes. They kept hot butterscotch and hot chocolate going all the time open, plus marshmallow, fruit, and nut toppings, and all sorts of soda flavors. We loved the ice cream floats. The pharmacy kept busy, but the soda fountain was the draw.”

By the late 1970s, the drug store had been renamed Arcade Drug Store.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.