With its open kitchen, walls lined with photos of customers and friendly service, it’s no wonder Sutton’s Drug Store remains a bustling Chapel Hill landmark nearly 90 years after opening.
“We’ve been around so long because we have a good product and we’re good at waiting on people and making them feel comfortable,” said John Woodard, pharmacist and owner of Sutton’s.
The store will celebrate its 90th birthday in April, though Woodard is still working with the county to determine the exact date of its opening.
To celebrate, Sutton’s hopes to offer 1923 prices — like hot dogs for a nickel — on the store’s 90th birthday, said General Manager Don Pinney.
Staying true to its roots
Sutton’s was opened in 1923 by Lynwood and Lucy Sutton.
The store was sold to Elliott Brummitt in 1964, and he promised to keep it true to its roots — a promise Woodard was also expected to keep when he bought the store in 1977.
A 1968 UNC graduate, Woodard said he never expected to own a store. When he took over Sutton’s at age 33, he had no business experience.
“In pharmacy school, they teach you how to fill prescriptions,” he said. “They don’t teach you how to be a businessman.”
Pinney, who has worked at Sutton’s since he was 15 years old, said Woodard has been a good mentor.
“He really took me under his wing,” he said. “He’s a rare bird, but he’s one of the most honest and giving people I know.”
Working at Sutton’s has become a Pinney family tradition.
His parents met while working at the store, and his son now works there too.
“Every morning I wake up and I’m still excited to come to work,” he said. “It’s home.”
David Adamson, a UNC professor, said Sutton’s is the same as it was 40 years ago when he was a UNC student.
“The food is very good, and the people are all unfailingly courteous and helpful,” he said.
Adamson said although he can fill his prescriptions cheaper online, he still goes to Sutton’s.
“John is great about service and helping people out,” Adamson said. “John has earned my business.”
Woodard has also earned the business of many famous customers, including actors Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, members of Bill Clinton’s presidential staff and Michael Jordan.
The proof is on his walls, which are lined with pictures of customers — famous and not.
The tradition started in 1981 when Woodard posted a picture of a group of morning regulars.
“It’s sort of a nostalgic thing to do,” Woodard said.
Soon everyone wanted their picture put up in the store, Pinney said.
He said Sutton’s has survived the test of time due to its customer service, family atmosphere and community support.
“John really is the driving force, the heart of Sutton’s, though,” Pinney said. “I’m really going to be sad when he retires.”
But Woodard, now 69, isn’t going anywhere for now.
“As long as I feel like I can keep going and my legs keep working, I’m going to be at Sutton’s,” he said.
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