Harold Sugar

Harold Sugar met his wife during the blizzard at John F. Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration – she helped push his car out of a snow bank in Georgetown. Since then, he has been an integral member of the Georgetown community as the head pharmacist of Dumbarton Pharmacy at 3146 Dumbarton Street for forty two years. Although the pharmacy recently closed in 2008, Harold Sugar helped numerous famous clients including a future President of the United States, an Attorney General, two Secretaries of State, and several Supreme Court Justices – although he keeps their identities confidential! In his informative and delightful interview with Constance Chatfield-Taylor, Harold Sugar declares Georgetown has been a true “village” throughout the numerous years he worked here.

Interview Date:
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Constance Chatfield Taylor

Constance: My name is Constance Chatfield‑Taylor. I’m here today with Harold Sugar. It’s April 15th, 2010, and we’re at 4305 Warren Street Northwest. I’d like to start by asking you to give me your full name.

Harold: Harold S. Sugar. And Sugar is just like table sugar.

Constance: What’s the S stand for?

Harold: Sam.

Constance: Sam, not Samuel?

Harold: Samuel. I beg your pardon. Samuel.

Constance: So, Harold Samuel Sugar, and where and when were you born?

Harold: I was born April 20th, 1927, at Columbia Hospital for Women, on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is now a condo, I believe.

Constance: And you’ve got a birthday coming up?

Harold: Yes, next week.

Constance: I’m going to put this on pause for a minute. And you, did you ever actually live in Georgetown?

Harold: I did not. My wife did. I met her in Georgetown after the big snowstorm that inundated Washington around the time of John Kennedy’s inaugural. She and a roommate helped push my car out of a snowdrift, 50 years ago almost. By God, you’re sure can get in trouble, can’t you?

Constance: That’s a great story. What is your wife’s name?

Harold: Carole Adams. No middle name. Claims they couldn’t afford one.

Constance: So Carole lived in Georgetown, but you’ve never…?

Harold: She did, yes.

Constance: OK. So, I do know a little bit about your involvement in Georgetown, but I’d like you to start at the beginning, and tell us about why you were so important in Georgetown.

Harold: Well, I don’t think I was very important, however, I did spend a lot of time there ‑ 54 years as a pharmacist. I did take off for four years, and sold real estate, which I loved. I had an opportunity to buy Morgan’s, which fell through, as sometimes good things do. I went back into pharmacy after selling real estate for four years.

Constance: What pharmacy were you a part of?

Harold: I was working at Morgan’s. That was my first job really. Then we opened Dumbarton about 42 years ago now. It’s just about 42 years ago. We closed up two years ago.

Constance: So how long was Dumbarton pharmacy in business?

Harold: Almost 40 years.

Constance: And where was Dumbarton? Tell us a little bit about Dumbarton Pharmacy, from the beginning.

Harold: Well actually, we didn’t even know it until we opened the store, having worked next door to, not the original, but the second Dumbarton Pharmacal Company, which was at 3003 P Street, right next to where Morgan’s is today. The name is in the tile in the entryway ‑ “Dumbarton Pharmacal.” It is my understanding that around the time of the Civil War, or just prior, perhaps, there was a Dumbarton Pharmacal on Dumbarton Street or Avenue. I think it was it was Street at that time, changed it to Avenue, then changed back to Street. That is an old, original bottle from there.

Constance: So, what we’re referring to now is this wonderful bottle. What would have been in this bottle?

Harold: Could’ve been booze, really. [laughs]

Constance: In a tiny bottle, for booze, it says “Dumbarton Pharmacal Company, 3003 P Street, Washington D.C.” What year do you think this is from, about?

Harold: I would say in the ’20s.

Constance: In the 1920s?

Harold: Yeah, definitely in the ’20s.

Constance: So when it was around the time of the Civil War, the location of the Dumbarton pharmacy?

Harold: Don’t know.

Constance: Don’t know that location?

Harold: Never could find that out.

Constance: But the second location was 3003 P Street, next door to Morgan’s?

Harold: Correct.

Constance: And your location, when you opened in which year?

Harold: 1968, at 3146 Dumbarton Street Northwest.

Constance: I have in my hand a flyer from your opening day. Is this right?

Harold: Correct.

Constance: “Open for service and delivery. Dumbarton Pharmacy, 3146 Dumbarton Avenue Northwest.” There is no date on it, but you just gave me the date.

Harold: It would be 1968, and probably January one.

Constance: So you worked at Morgan’s, and then you opened Dumbarton Pharmacy.

Harold: Correct.

Constance: Tell us about 1968 in Washington, and owning a pharmacy. That’s a pretty lively time, but tell us what you can remember about what it felt like in Georgetown, on that street, at that time.

Harold: Actually, people were not opening drug stores very much. The pressure from the chains was such that independents were not springing up all over, as they would have in years past. Georgetown at that time was really a quiet neighborhood. Like a little village, in a way. Everybody knew everyone else. There were a lot of interconnections, as you well know.

Along came the Vietnam disturbance. I shall put it that way. We had almost rioting in the streets. At that time, we would put up plywood over our windows each night, and take it down the next day, with screws.

Constance: That went on for a year or two?

Harold: A year or two. Yes. A couple of years, and then it all quieted down again.

Constance: So that pharmacy in ’68. What was the next… How did Georgetown change after the late ’60s, early ’70s, as far as your customers go, and the feel of the town?

Harold: The customers largely stayed the same. That was one of the problems for us. We maintained our old customers. As I said, when I closed, there were people I had known for 50 years. That’s how long I have known customers, some of them. The drug store operation was changing very rapidly at that time. The chains were… Not long afterward, the first computers came out, which we resisted. We bought Chevy Chase Pharmacy in… Let’s see… 1968, add 11 years. It would have been 1979, give or take. I ran that store for 13 years.

Constance: At the same time you were running Dumbarton?

Harold: Yes, and my partner was running Dumbarton. I had a partner, who might be helpful, if he can remember. Perhaps. He’s about four years older than I am.

Constance: So were you both pharmacists yourself?

Harold: Yes.

Constance: And where did you go to school?

Harold: I went to GW Pharmacy School.

Constance: You have referenced a few times the the pharmacy business changing at that time with computers, but also larger chains?

Harold: Chains were getting much more important. When I started, there were about five drugstores in Georgetown. Three or four on Wisconsin Avenue. There was Potomac Pharmacy, there was O’Donald’s, there was the Georgetown Pharmacy, Harry Zelinski, who was a good friend, [laughingly] a block away. All gone. The only one remaining is Morgan’s, where I started. The pressure from the chains changed. When I started, pharmacists have always cooperated with one another. If I needed an item that I did not have, I could call People’s, which became CVS, I could call them, and the pharmacist would say, if he had it, “It’s yours, ” and they sell it to me at their cost.

No questions. That’s the way it was done. Individuals did it, the chains did it. Reciprocated with us. “Obliged” was the term used. They would oblige. You would send a note, oddly enough, “KOW” ‑ Kindly oblige with…

Anyway, when People’s was bought by, I think it was Gray Pharmacy from Ohio, the order went out, “Cooperate with a pharmacist working for People’s, cooperate with an independent, you’re fired.” A total change. Total reversal. That in and of itself was a big sort of eye opener.

Constance: What year was that? Do you remember, about?

Harold: I would say 30 years ago that Gray took over People’s. See, I can’t really pinpoint.

Constance: That’s OK.

Harold: But I would say 30 years, at least.

Constance: So at that point, they were trying to put the smaller people out business?

Harold: They really wanted us out…

Constance: They’ve done a pretty good job.

Harold: …And they didn’t care how they did it.

Constance: So when Morgan’s today, needs to get… They need to keep their stock up, because they can’t call CVS.

Harold: They can call other independents.

Constance: Other independents. Are there many left?

Harold: There aren’t a lot really. There are a handful of independents. There’s one up here…

Constance: “Up here,” meaning northwest Washington, and not in Georgetown.

Harold: Yeah, not far from us. On 49th and Mass.

Constance: Center?

Harold: Center Pharmacy, and that’s independent. Then the Tschiffely Pharmacies, of which there are four now downtown. They are all independent. They’re owned by two brothers.

Constance: How many Tschiffely pharmacies were there when you were in business? Was it just one?

Harold: One, then two.

Constance: So they’ve survived and grown.

Harold: Yes. They’re young. Their father was a man about my age, who bought the first one from a man named Al Overt. I remember his name. Their father bought the first one, which had been in business for, at that point, probably close 100 years. Not the same ownership, but under the same name. The two sons both became pharmacists, and they expanded. They opened another store, then they opened a third store, and they just bought a store on K Street, in 2,000 lot of K Street.

Constance: Do you see Morgan’s surviving, if they don’t grow?

Harold: Yes, because he did something I just couldn’t deal with ‑ Adjust to the new systems, the new methods. I did it the same way I did it 56 years ago, the first day I became a pharmacist licensed, and I never changed. I did get a computer, learned how to use it, sort of.

Constance: Can you explain what other new systems, other than the computer?

Harold: Well, the insurance then took over your business. 95 percent of all the business that goes through Morgan’s is done on insurance. The insurance company tells you what you are allowed to make, what you can do, what you cannot do. They’re in charge. You have very little to say about it.

Constance: Does it take an additional person to process paperwork, or…?

Harold: Well, the computer makes it feasible. Without a computer, you couldn’t do it. We used to do the paperwork for people who had insurance. I would do the paperwork for them myself, or I had one of my… This woman that we have the picture of, who worked for me for close to 30 years. Herman Tucker, who started as a driver 39 years ago, before we closed… Actually it’s 40‑some years ago. He came to work the third month we were there. When we closed, he was a clerk working inside. That was his job he had worked most of his life.

Constance: How many employees did you have?

Harold: When we had the two stores, we had a total of about 12.

Constance: And just with the one, in the Georgetown store?

Harold: In the Georgetown store, we probably had five full‑time.

Constance: How many square feet was the Georgetown store, approximately?

Harold: About 1,250 on the ground floor, and about 1,000 feet on the second floor that we used as storage and office space.

Constance: What is in that building now? Do you know?

Harold: A beauty salon. [laughs] As far as I know.

Constance: Oh, a beauty salon.

Harold: I believe.

Constance: We’re going to get to your pictures in a little it, but I’d like to take you back to maybe the first 10, or 12, 15 years you were in Dumbarton, in the store. Tell me what you like best about the business. Obviously, you liked it a lot. Tell us…

Harold: You know what, we had such a nice… Our customers were so nice. We had customers… If I could give you anecdotes, which I would be sued for if I did… A customer who would become President of The United States, his brother, who would become Attorney General, set two Secretaries of State, several Supreme Court justices, numerous senators, congressmen, appointees in various departments of government…

Constance: Would they come in themselves?

Harold: Sometimes, yes. Some of them would come in themselves. We’ve had some pretty prominent people come in, and come up to the counter. I’ll always remember one man, who was a very prominent senator. He came in and he sat on the counter and chatted. I always remember, that was sort of cute. He just sort of hiked himself up and sat on the… We had a marble top counter. He just sat down there and chatted.

Constance: Describe your counter.

Harold: Well, as I say, we never knew for sure… The fixtures came out of Easterday Pharmacy, on Capitol Hill. Easterday opened in 1909, but I am almost positive those fixtures that you have the pictures of, were made around 1889, for another location, and were moved into Easterday in 1909. They were 20 years old when they were moved in there. I think, but I never could pin it down… I’m fairly certain, based on the style, and other things. The fact that they really didn’t actually fit the way they should have in the old store. In a way, they fit in here better.

Constance: …to the Dumbarton, we’re looking at a picture here that we will scan and put with the file. Beautiful… Describe what kind of wood, and what that is.

Harold: It was mahogany stained, but it was not necessarily mahogany wood. I think some of it was cypress, other hardwoods, all stained dark mahogany.

Constance: And they run the length of a wall, a very long wall.

Harold: Two walls actually.

Constance: Two walls.

Harold: There was a similar on this. This was the right side coming in. It was similar, not quite the same, but similar on the left side. At the back there was something that was very unique ‑ there was a curved case with a curved glass door. That curved glass door weighed at least 150 pounds.

Constance: And it was part of a case?

Harold: Part of that curved… You’ve got that picture there.

Constance: Underneath there are how many drawers?

Harold: Drawers. Drawers.

Constance: Many drawers. There’s…

Harold: Many, many. Probably…

Constance: Four, four… 16 drawers under each section that I see with brass…

Harold: Pulls.

Constance: Pulls and places to put…

Harold: Put labels.

Constance: …labels on. And so the shelves would be full of…

Harold: When we opened up they were just chock full of merchandise. Every inch was covered.

Constance: It’s beautiful, and we do have some more pictures that we will scan and put with this file. Oh, is that the case right there? It’s a curved heavy glass case with a mahogany top, curved wood top. That looks quite substantial and beautiful. So you open the door by sliding it?

Harold: Actually, one of the customers wanted it very badly, and bought it from me when we closed.

Constance: Tell me about closing. What year did you close and what brought you to do that?

Harold: We thought we had the store sold, as I mentioned. The purchasers changed their mind. They bought the drug inventory and I gave them my records for their buying the inventory at cost. Refill [inaudible 21:49] . If it were 7:00 it would be martini, but…

Constance: [laughingly] Oh, I’ll come back.

Harold: They make a mean martini.

Constance: So on the flyer you have, your opening flyer, there’s a picture of Hank Budds?

Harold: Hank Budds, who had worked with us at Morgan’s. My partner, Bob Royce who started at Morgan’s when he was 16, he was in high school. He went in the Army. When he got out, he went to University of Maryland Pharmacy School, became a pharmacist and took over the management of Morgan’s for the owner, whose name at that time was Joe Schenick. He also was a pharmacist.

Constance: And you, Harold Sugar.

Harold: I went to work for them. Bob was my manager. The Schenick’s were the owners. Hank was a graduate of GW School of Foreign Service actually.

Constance: So who’re the owners?

Harold: Schenick. Joseph Schenick.

Constance: It says “Having served Georgetown residents for a combined total of over 50 years, are now at their new apothecary, Dumbarton Pharmacy.”

Harold: Correct.

Constance: People don’t call pharmacies “apothecaries” anymore.

Harold: We were being highfalutin at the time. Trying to tone it up a little.

Constance: Oh, but also on this bottle, it’s a pharmacal company. So the names are, things are changing as we evolve, I believe.

Harold: Totally changed. It was being a druggist, a neighborhood druggist, was such a pleasant job, to be truthful. For many, many years, I don’t know if it’s true anymore because the influx of foreign born pharmacist working in the chains. The Gallup Poll, the most trusted group in the country, were pharmacist, ahead of doctors, ahead of ministers, ahead of dentists, ahead of lawyers, that’s for sure, ahead of the used car salesman, definitely. Number one, as I recall it, at least ten years running. That has, I think, changed somewhat and I think possibly because of the influx of foreign born who can’t quite relate to the customer the way the American born pharmacist. He grew up, frequently, in the neighborhood where he wound up working, frequently. So there was a different relationship at that time. But that has all changed.

Constance: You also, I’m going back just a little bit more about services here and I’m sure that yours would include mixing prescriptions, and I don’t know what that’s called.

Harold: Compounding.

Constance: Thank you.

Harold: We would do compounding. I did compounding till… A lot of stores won’t do it. It’s very time consuming. And since they won’t allow you to charge very much for it, a lot of stores just won’t… chains will not compound for you. There might be a chain store that will do compounding. They may pick one store and you have to go to that store to get it done, but we would compound.

Constance: What was the most difficult prescription you ever filled? Is there anything that sticks out in your mind?

Harold: Oddly enough, I was working for someone else, and it was a lotion. It had 12 ingredients. I even remember the doctors name. I can’t use it. Who wrote it, and my employer at that time said, “Why do you use so many ingredients?” They were on a first name basis, and he said, “Hey, I charge them a lot of money. I can’t give them a one line prescription. [laughing] I’ve gotta make it look like it means something. It’s really gotta do something.” That was the most difficult, we could not make it work, because there’s certain things in pharmacy, emulsions, for instance, if it isn’t correct, it won’t happen. It will not emulsify. It will crack, and you get two different layers of liquids. The man I worked for for a short while at that time, just before I went into business for myself, he and I worked on that thing for hours. We were determined to make it work. Could not get it to work, and we were both pretty good pharmacists.

Constance: What do you do to satisfy your science drive now? Do you do a lot of cooking and mixing up special ingredients and…

Harold: No. Nope. I do not.

Constance: No? You’re moving on to other things?

Harold: I try to read a lot more than I used to.

Constance: Tell us, you named off some positions of people that were pretty prominent in the world that you had as customers. Were there any favorite customers you had, just because they were the way they were?

Harold: Oh, yes.

Constance: Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite customers?

Harold: As I mentioned, the senator who came in and sat on the counter [laughter] , nicest guy in the world. His wife also, a very nice woman. I could tell you an anecdote about her, but I can’t do it. [laughing] Something she said one day to me. Anyway, I can’t do it. A couple of the men who were on the Supreme Court, very, very, interested in what we were doing. And, would talk to you, and say, “What do you do about so and so, and such and such?” We had, one of the most prominent, columnist, syndicated columnist… Most difficult guy in the world.

Constance: That was my next question. Did you have any difficult customers?

Harold: Oh yes! Not a lot. Mostly very, very nice. An occasional difficult one. And in spite of him being that difficult, he wasn’t a bad guy, really. In many ways he was nice guy, but boy could he be difficult. If I mentioned his name you’d know it right away you’d recognize it, but I can’t do that.

Constance: The Supreme Court judges that were interested in what you were doing, are they interested in the business, or your… How were they interested?

Harold: Anything. In other words, you were like a neighbor to them, that they might talk to over the fence in the backyard type of thing. And as I say 95‑99% of these people were as nice. What term can you use? “Nice” sounds sort of weak, but I think it covers. They were just nice.

Constance: I think you really enjoyed your life’s work.

Harold: I grew to really like it. Initially I didn’t. I mentioned that I sold real estate for four years. I got a little discouraged with it, but then, when I went back to work after that four year hiatus in real estate, which I liked very much, I sometimes regret not continuing, because I was doing quite well at it. I always felt my customers in real estate trusted me, as they did in the drug store. They trusted me, and in real estate sometimes it’s a little difficult to find people you really can say “I trust that man or that woman.” [laughs]

Constance: Looking back through some of the historical time line of when you owned your shop. I’ve got the Kennedy, which we’ve already talked about. Martin Luther King assassination was around that same time as well.

Harold: Yes. Yes.

Constance: And you have told us about having to put up plywood over your windows at night.

Harold: Because the students were coming through there, and just carrying on at night ‑ breaking windows, protesting the Vietnam War, really.

Constance: Right, and then following the Vietnam War, we of course had Watergate, and then the Nixon resignation.

Harold: Yes.

Constance: Can you tell us about the neighborhood at that time? Was there anything significant that you remember about people coming in?

Harold: Strangely enough, it was more a democratic neighborhood, in spite of the fact that you had… I once sort of counted on our block, the number of millionaires, multi‑millionaires in that block. I think I came up with a dozen. And yet, there were many more liberal democrats. They were not what we have today. These right wing republicans who want to control the country.

Constance: Yeah, you can tell me whether or not you want that in.

Harold: Nope.

Constance: It’s more so the makeup of the neighborhood, but do you remember any tension during that time, or was there a feeling that’s different in the neighborhood and the people coming in to get prescriptions, in any of the time you owned the pharmacy? What we’re looking for is…

Harold: During the tension, the only time I recall there was some tension, was during the Nixon problem. Before his list, the eavesdropping, some of the customers were very irate. They had been eavesdropped on. And very upset with Nixon and that administration at the time, you know? All three, both John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were assassinated at that point. Each time it was quite a blow really. My personal feelings were the greatest loss was Martin Luther King. He was more important. His loss did more harm to the country than even the loss of a President and a prospective President. He had a unique position, and it was not fulfilled.

Constance: I know that from talking to you in this interview, you enjoyed what you did, and a lot of it was about the people that you interacted with.

Harold: Yes.

Constance: Is there any advice you would give to a young person going into business these days about fulfillment in one’s job?

Harold: If you don’t like what you’re doing, do something else. It’s that simple. I grew to like it very much. Initially, I’d have to say, I wasn’t overjoyed. I wouldn’t have taken off four years had I been. That was very early on. I didn’t know you yet. I’ve known you almost 50. But I did sort of evolve into what I guess I was supposed to turn out to be ‑ an old neighborhood pharmacist giving advice.

Constance: Did you ever get into…

Harold: I could relate. Do you know why? I had all their problems. We were in the same age bracket. Whatever problems they had, I had them, so I could talk to them.

Constance: Did you ever feel like you were giving advice other than… Did you become sort of the bartender, where people sit and talk, and tell you all their problems?

Harold: To an extent, yes. I shouldn’t pat myself on the back, but I think I had evolved into that type of neighborhood character.

Constance: And is there anything else you’d like to say? Or anything you’d like to leave with the community about being such a part of it for so long?

Harold: One thing, I don’t miss getting up and going to work. I worked a total of 54 years. When I retired, I was 81. In that 54 year span, I had at most 12 one week vacations. Period.

Constance: Why did you drive yourself so hard? You just didn’t have the time?

Harold: I guess because I had a wife and two children. Let’s be quite blunt. It was very hard to get anybody to cover for you during a vacation period. So the times I took the vacations were when I had somebody I could rely on working for me. It did come down to about 12 in that time frame.

Constance: And Carole is sitting here with us, Harold’s wife. Did you help out in the pharmacy as well?

Harold: At the end yes.

Carole: Yes.

Harold: The last years, but prior to that, no.

Constance: What year was the building built that the pharmacy was in? Do you know?

Harold: It was built, in a way, for us. Sam, and Alevy, and Johnny Snyder, who were very well known in Georgetown, built that building.

Constance: So it was built in ’68?

Harold: The year we opened. Which would be 1968, yes.

Constance: And we are referring to 3146 Dumbarton.

Harold: 3146 Dumbarton Street Northwest.

Constance: So it’s not one of the old Georgetown houses, but it has a nice old appearance.

Harold: It had nice feel to it.

Constance: And your shelving was from…?

Harold: I’d say 120 years old.

Constance: So it had a great old feel when you walked in?

Harold: Yea I thought so. I liked it. [dog barking]

Constance: Oh, and that’s Lucy. [dog barking]

Harold: I hadn’t seen these.

Constance: We’ll be scanning some of these pictures that Mr. Sugar has pulled out for us, and they will appear with the interview.

Harold: Is this still on, or off?

Constance: It is on. Do you want me to turn it off?

Harold: I was going to say.

Constance: Yeah. It’s off. Oops. No, it’s not. I’m going just to make sure… [cuts off]