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In Memoriam: Death of a Corner Drugstore Captures the Last Days of Oriental Drugs

by Jeremy Berg

For those with fond memories of the East Side’s one-time most popular eatery/pharmacy/hardware store/cultural melting pot, Brooke Maroldi’s Death of a Corner Drugstore offers delights just by showing footage of Oriental Drugs and its customers and staff. Yet while the first section of the video, entitled “What did you get at Oriental Drugs?,” paints a portrait of the staff and customers and offers the expected encomiums to milkshake quality and food prices, it also opens the door to a much more serious inquiry. As one patron asks, “What’s the marketplace economy if a place that’s always busy can’t stay afloat?” That is the question that lies at the heart of Death of a Corner Drugstore. The next section, “Why did it close?,” does not take long to answer it. Hy Eglash, the owner, explains how pharmaceutical companies and large chains can force independent pharmacies out of business, no matter how well they’re doing. Maroldi then cuts to a shot of the massive billboard over Von Trier’s, which announces the forthcoming Osco drug store with the phrase “people who care are coming to Farwell and Brady” — and then pans left to show Oriental Drugs directly across the street, where, as the next section shows, are plenty of people who really care. “Customer/Employee relations” and “The Chaining of America” are where the video picks up its real bite, as tributes to the staff and the store give way to anger over a closing that no one wants. While she occasionally cuts in exterior shots, Maroldi wisely leaves the majority of the storytelling up to the interviewees. When recalling Eglash’s willingness to give prescriptions on credit or how the lunch counter functioned as community meeting place, patrons know that Osco will offer none of these things. More than one person connects such changes to the larger trend of chains taking over in America, and Maroldi punctuates these comments with shots of Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and others. Far from the stereotypical radicals who have become associated with such anti-globalization sentiments, Death of a Corner Drugstore shows a broad cross-section of society angered and saddened by what big business has done to them. Today, Death of a Corner Drugstore is all that remains of Oriental Drugs, making it a valuable memento and a warning to all. Death of a Corner Drugstore is available for rental at Milwaukee Public Library, free to anyone with a library card. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003