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Providing 'old-fashioned' customer service a tradition of Burgie Drug for a half-century

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   The more things change, the more they stay the same. That doesn't bother Larry Proffitt, owner of Burgie Drug, G Street, in Elizabethton, one bit. In fact, that's the way he prefers it to be.
   The tradition of giving "old-fashioned customer service," that is, treating customers like they were members of your family, dates back a half-century when Max Jett operated Burgie Drug, founded by his predecessor, Harry Burgie, in 1893.
   The nostalgia of yesteryear is immediately felt when one enters Burgie Drug, 1000 West G St., Elizabethton. It feels like you have stepped back in time.
   Customers are surrounded by ornate display cabinets, some of which were built in 1914. Cabinet facings are made from cherry wood, shelving from poplar wood.
   The building currently housing Burgie Drug was designed to accommodate the old fixtures. "I wanted to preserve the heritage of Burgie Drug," Larry said.
   One Friday in July 1975, Burgie Drug closed its doors on Elk Avenue, staff disassembled all fixtures and moved everything to their present location. "We were open for business the following Monday morning."
   An 1802 calendar hangs nearby. A 1956 Burgie calendar had the correct dates for the year 2001.
   The pharmacy license of Burgie Drug's two previous owners, Harry Burgie and Max Jett, dated 1900 and 1927, respectively, are conspicuously displayed at the customer counter. The state began issuing pharmacy licenses in 1898.
   Harry died in 1951. Max died in 1971.
   A large, incandescent lightbulb hangs above the customer counter in the same spot it did when Burgie Drug was located on East Elk Avenue, near the old Betsy Theater which has since been demolished. "That was Max's light," Larry said.
   Max was Larry's mentor, from whom he purchased Burgie Drug in 1969 after graduating from the University of Tennessee Pharmacy School.
   Larry first met Max at Ridgewood Restaurant, founded in 1948 by his parents, Grace Proffitt, a resident of Hermitage Nursing Home, and the late Jim Proffitt, who passed away in 1980.
   "My mother introduced us What amazed me, Max would bring people to Ridgewood to eat and he would order five hot dogs and smother them with my mother's chili. He loved my mother's chili. The others with Max would order country ham steaks."
   That introduction and friendship would endure for a lifetime. Larry went to work for Max during the summer of 1969 prior to graduating from U-T.
   "We hit it off. At the time, Max was sick with lung cancer. We met at the Lynnwood Hotel and he offered me a salary. If this works out, and you like it, I'll sell Burgie Drug to you. I won't sell it to anyone who is not a pharmacist."
   Neither would Harry Burgie That's how Max bought Burgie Drug from Harry Burgie. The predecessor pharmacy, Hunter Drug Store, was located where Security Federal Bank is located today.
   At Burgie Drug, employees have been called "the nicest people." Larry said employees, dating back to Harry and then to Max, were taught to give customers the ultimate in service until they leave the front door. "They will be back. There's no mystery to it," Larry said.
   "Our staffing is geared for the busy times. Usually, we have one employee available to wait on each customer. Our customers have better things to do than to sit and wait," Larry added.
   Burgie Drug's customer base is from Carter and eastern Washington counties. There are three pharmacists: Larry Proffitt, Tyler Hyder, son of Lonnie Hyder, and Renee Lyons Horton of Gap Creek.
   Burgie also has registered pharmacy technicians Kathie Clawson, April Colbaugh, Rachel Hoyle and Natasha Hughes, an ETSU student pursuing a degree in pharmacy, all from Elizabethton.
   Each completed a three-month course at ETSU to become registered pharmacy technicians.
   There are also six part-time employees at Burgie Drug.
   A graduate of Murray Hughes High School in Piney Flats, Larry met his wife, Norma, an accomplished artist from LaFollette, at U-T. They married in 1966.
   The couple has two daughters, Rebecca Wilkins, a family nurse practitioner; and Lisa Peters, also a registered nurse, who is managing Ridgewood Restaurant; three grandchildren, Casey Charles Wilkins, age six months; and twins Jacob Michael Peters and Amanda Paige Peters, age eight months.
   Larry has come a long way since 1961, his freshman year, when he lived in the U-T Stadium Dormitory and passing freight trains jarred him from a sound night's sleep.
   The medical student wanabe turned pharmacist says he has no plans to retire. "My mother was 79 before she had to be slowed down."
   If and when Larry makes that decision, the future of Burgie Drug will never be in doubt.
   "It is my desire that the heritage and tradition of Burgie Drug continue for future generations. This business belongs to the Lord. I just work here."
   Burgie Drug is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m, telephone 423-542-4821. To reach the prescription department, call 423-542-4622.