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July 31, 2014

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Closing of pharmacy that once served Elvis evokes nostalgia in Old Vegas

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

The front entrance of White Cross Drugs is seen Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

White Cross Pharmacy Closes

Vicki Kelesis, a waitress at Tiffany's Cafe, gives a hug to pharmacy technician Mandy Tucker, as co-worker Sharron Manzy looks on during the last day of operation at the White Cross Pharmacy on Las Vegas Boulevard South Tuesday, March 6, 2012. The pharmacy, the first 24-hour pharmacy in Las Vegas, opened in 1955 but closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Vicki Kelesis, a waitress at Tiffany's Cafe, gives a hug to pharmacy technician Mandy Tucker, as co-worker Sharron Manzy looks on during the last day of operation at the White Cross Pharmacy on Las Vegas Boulevard South Tuesday, March 6, 2012. The pharmacy, the first 24-hour pharmacy in Las Vegas, opened in 1955 but closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

White Cross Drugs

Most who entered the doors of White Cross Drugs in downtown Las Vegas had something in common: They were all trying to feel better.

And the little store at the crossroads of Las Vegas Boulevard and Oakey Boulevard delivered — not only with prescription drugs, but comfort diner food, a bank of video slot machines and a wide variety of grocery items, cosmetics, liquor and knickknacks.

The store was also an elixir in itself: A splash of Old Vegas stirred with a homey, welcoming environment that could heal the souls of the regulars, the tourists and even the famous who stepped inside, from the Rat Pack to Liza Minnelli to Ludacris. Even Elvis entered the building from time to time.

But it’s mostly ending. The pharmacy, which opened in 1955, was having its final day Tuesday. The main part of the store will stay open through the end of the month.

The only part of it that will remain is Tiffany’s Café, the separate but adjoining 1950s-style diner where you can still get a chocolate malt with your meatloaf dinner, 24-7. The owner, Teddy Pappas, says he plans to stay.

“Our customers are like family. It’s been a really sad day. We’ve been crying on and off,” said Marcie Davis, who has owned the drugstore for more than eight years. Davis and her husband, Harvey, say they’re folding up because they’ve lost their main pharmaceutical supplier.

Dozens of regular customers were dropping by to pay their best wishes to the couple, who were getting ready Tuesday to turn over their pharmacy customers to the Walgreens at Charleston Boulevard and Las Vegas Boulevard. Even former Mayor Oscar Goodman, a regular, came by to wish them well earlier in the week.

Davis, who has been with the store for 21 years, said their supplier, Cardinal Health, unexpectedly cut them off from controlled drugs on Oct. 11.

“There was some trouble with another local pharmacy and it reflected bad on all the independents,” she said. “They’ve now cut off most all the independents in Las Vegas from controlled drugs. For us it was devastating. We could get small amounts from a different distributor, but not enough to stay in business.”

In response, they remodeled the store to expand their liquor department to try to bring in more revenue.

“It’s gotten a little better, but it’s not enough to keep us afloat,” she said. She said the bank of 15 slot machines used to do well until the smoking ban came into effect, which reduced that part of the business to an eighth of what it had been.

“We filled for a lot of high-profile people,” she said. “We filled for Elvis, the Rat Pack, people who would be performers on the Strip. We still occasionally will get calls. ... So there’s quite a history.”

Davis said her managing pharmacist, who has been there for 35 years and is now semi-retired, told her when he arrived “the files were full of Elvis’ prescriptions — he was kind of shocked at what he was taking.”

“There’s a lot of living ones that we fill, but I can’t tell you who they are,” Davis said, explaining that federal privacy rules prohibit them from releasing that information.

Several of the employees have been at the drugstore for 30 to 35 years and are like family, she said. The store’s 22 employees — which include clerks, pharmacists and technicians — will soon be losing their jobs.

Mandy Tucker, who’s been a pharmacy technician there for six years, said it was like losing a family.

“Everybody knows your name,” Tucker said. “This is our version of 'Cheers.'"

She said the drugstore was like a time warp in Las Vegas.

“You come in here, you’ve got the soda fountain, and you feel like you’re coming back to the good old '50s, when people cared about each other,” she said, starting to cry.

Melany McDonald, a clerk and cashier, has worked at the drugstore for 13 years. It’s always been a memorable part of her life.

“I used to come in here when I was a little girl with my mom,” she said. “We’d get her medicine and she’d take me to eat at the restaurant. She would buy makeup for work. It’s very sad that it’s closing — very, very sad. ... Everybody in here is going to be looking for a job.”

Click to enlarge photo

Vicki Kelesis, a waitress at Tiffany's Cafe, gives a hug to pharmacy technician Mandy Tucker, as co-worker Sharron Manzy looks on during the last day of operation at the White Cross Pharmacy on Las Vegas Boulevard South Tuesday, March 6, 2012. The pharmacy, the first 24-hour pharmacy in Las Vegas, opened in 1955 but closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

McDonald said her memories of the store revolve around its family atmosphere.

“Marcie and Harvey, they were the best people I ever worked for,” she said. “We have a lot of great customers who come in every day. And the memories of when I was a kid coming in with my mom, since my mom’s no longer here — it’s hard.”

McDonald said she had met comedian Rip Taylor, singers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., actor Tony Curtis, rapper Ludacris and even illusionists Siegfried and Roy.

She said it was difficult to talk about all the memories without getting emotional.

“Hopefully somebody will come in and take this over,” she said, “and maybe White Cross will live on.”

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  1. Sad day for Vegas, another piece of history gone.

  2. Old Vegas lives as long as we remember it, and our most important history is yet to be made. RIP White Cross.

  3. If you're not a huge corporation, America doesn't want you. It's just disgusting. I've watched this once fun, independent town turn into a corporate machine. I suppose it's not just Vegas - eventually the USA will be one large Walmart.

  4. How many of you that are complaining about losing another piece of history actually frequented White Cross or have ever been at all?

    I have not been in many years, but I will support that greasy diner for sure. So it doesn't disappear as well.

  5. Where is Obama care on this? Does not seem right being cut off from the supplier.

  6. I remember when White Cross was the only pharmacy open on Christams day, in the entire valley. Truly a sad day for long term Vegans.

  7. White Cross' demise was it's own doing. That location open in 1955, but once had a store on Fremont St. It's current locale should of be demolished years ago. The grocery store, that use to be next door, closed it's doors in the last century. I say, "Let the Art's District take that property over and make it a music/art venue for the First Friday Crowd.