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posted: 1/8/2021 6:00 AM

A lost landmark: Riley Drugs in Geneva to close after 55 years

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  • Owner Tim Riley is retiring, and Riley Drugs in Geneva will soon close its doors after 55 years in business.

    Owner Tim Riley is retiring, and Riley Drugs in Geneva will soon close its doors after 55 years in business.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

It's been a couple of decades since the Klick & Worthley drugstore on First Street in St. Charles closed after being in operation since the mid-1940s, and Burger Drugs along Main Street closed its doors in 2008 after more than 70 years of service.

They've essentially become memories of a time when small-town pharmacies were vital to the community.

Riley Drugs at 415 W. State St. in Geneva falls into that category as a local, independent drugstore that has served its customers for 55 years.

It, too, now will fade into the local history memory banks, as CVS Pharmacy takes over on Jan. 13 when owner Tim Riley retires. Riley took over the store operation when his father Jim retired in 1999, about 35 years after buying the drugstore.

This means CVS is taking over the Riley Drugs customer database and will serve those customers at its locations on East Side Drive and State Street in Geneva or at Bricher Road and Lincoln Highway in St. Charles.

It's too early to say what will happen to the current Riley Drugs site, which sits next to the Walrus Room restaurant.

I've been in Riley Drugs only a few times over the years, but for many people losing this local drugstore is like losing a friend.

Riley Drugs in Geneva is closing its doors and turning over its customer database to CVS Pharmacy. Riley Drugs, at 415 W. State St., has been a local drug store for 55 years.
Riley Drugs in Geneva is closing its doors and turning over its customer database to CVS Pharmacy. Riley Drugs, at 415 W. State St., has been a local drug store for 55 years. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

I felt that way when Grimm's Pharmacy closed on the west side of St. Charles years ago. It was a place I had grown used to for medicine and monthly tasks, like paying utility bills, when I lived within walking distance.

Someone has to get our medications prepared for us, and these small, local drugstores were like an extension of your doctor.

It's not that major pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, or even Walmart, Target or Costco don't provide good service. It's more that it was not uncommon for customers to get to know the people at their local drugstore, and that familiarity fueled trust.

That's what Riley Drugs did for more than five decades, and it has locked up its spot in local memory banks and history books.

Nelson's bank battle:

It was a contentious battle in 1985, one that established Gregg Nelson of State Bank of Geneva as the town's version of George Bailey, as he essentially saved the local bank from a corporate takeover.

Nelson, who passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 76, was the one member of his family to come out publicly and persuade shareholders to keep the bank local and not give in to an acquisition movement from Unibancorp. After all, the Nelson family had been involved as founders or shareholders of the bank since its inception in 1903.

Nelson had changed the minds of many shareholders, including his father, Arthur Nelson. Along with local attorney Stephen Cooper, Nelson triggered a movement that eventually saved the bank.

It was a complicated series of events that occurred that summer. It's a story retold in great detail by former Geneva newspaper editor Kurt Wehrmeister in his "My Fifty Geneva Years -- a Memoir," which he plans to have published this year.

The chapter outlining Nelson's heroic efforts to save the bank is titled "When David Beat Goliath: The '85 Battle for the State Bank."

It all reminds us of what an interesting and important life Nelson led in his beloved Geneva community.

As noted, this whole bank episode was complicated and, after some court proceedings, Nelson actually found himself removed from a role with the bank through a vote of bank directors. After some rugged legal maneuvers with the bank board, Nelson eventually would complete the ultimate reversal and become bank president, a title he held for 27 years.

Those with a vested interest, or just as regular customers, at the bank, were grateful about that for decades.

Joe Greenberg, who recently turned 95, still works full-time at The Little Traveler and recently became a delivery man for the Geneva retailer, cruising around the area delivering items that customers purchased online.
Joe Greenberg, who recently turned 95, still works full-time at The Little Traveler and recently became a delivery man for the Geneva retailer, cruising around the area delivering items that customers purchased online. - Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2014
Joe keeps moving:

The Little Traveler in Geneva was temporarily closed during the holiday weeks to protect staff from COVID-19, but that didn't stop longtime employee Joe Greenberg from staying engaged.

Greenberg, who has worked at Little Traveler for more than 50 years, became a "delivery man" for Little Traveler, cruising around the area, delivering items that customers purchased online.

What makes this so amazing, other than the fact that Greenberg celebrated his 95th birthday a couple of days before Christmas?

It's amazing because this is guy simply keeps plugging away. He's already well known in Geneva just for "being around town," mostly during special holidays when he has dressed up like the Easter Bunny or a different type of Santa Claus in tie-dyed clothing.

"If you don't know Joe, you're in the minority in Geneva," said Little Traveler owner Mike Simon. "He was Grand Marshal of the Swedish Days parade in 2015 because of his constant promotion of all things Geneva. He's a rare example of someone who genuinely enjoys always finding ways to make people happy, and goes out of his way to do it."

It should not surprise anyone that Greenberg still works full-time. He's always the first person in the store and the last one to leave, Simon said of his loyal employee.

My most consistent engagement with Joe occurred about 11 years ago when we were both part of the first "Dancing with the Geneva Stars" fundraiser.

Of course, Joe did a swing dance with his partner, a fitting choice considering how much energy this fellow has put into his love of Geneva.

About those troops:

Readers of this column tend to like their history, so it was no surprise when so many took the time to send a note about how much they enjoyed the Christmas Day column about the history behind so many of our beloved Christmas carols.

But a few noted that an item about World War I troops taking a time out to sing "Silent Night" on the battlefield in 1914 mistakenly said American and German troops took part in that historic event.

The U.S. didn't send troops to Europe until 1917, so the troops testing their singing skills and holiday spirit were British and German troops.

The Rev. William Beckmann, who supplies the information each year about holiday traditions and history, said it was his mistake in compiling the info. His research on this topic came from a book titled "Silent Night, the Story of the World War I Truce" by Stanley Weintraub.

"There are several popular sources about this truce, but this one focuses on the British involvement," Beckmann said, who added that Belgian troops were also involved.

What 2020 meant:

Doing the "Talk of the Town" column last year was certainly a challenge, but in looking back, it turns out we were able to don the mask and get out to talk to people, mostly business owners or social service agencies seeking ways to help residents.

It was mostly a year in which we all learned more about ourselves and how that translated to spending a lot more time at home.

I read about five books and reacquainted myself with many of the vinyl records in my album collection. We also cleared a ton of unneeded stuff out of the house.

Mostly, it seemed, there was a fair amount of TV watching.

It was fun to binge-watch all of the seasons of "Schitt's Creek." I already miss the characters and following their journeys. Still, this show isn't quite like my other favorite comedies like "Seinfeld," "The Andy Griffith Show" or "The Honeymooners," in which I can pop on an episode at any time and get big laughs.

With "Schitt's," it was continuing a long storyline in which each part fit like a puzzle with the others. I am not sure what it would be like, for example, to watch the fourth episode of the third season out of the blue. But this surely was a great series and a nice way to spend pandemic time at my house.

We also got hooked on "Longmire" on Netflix and, even though my wife has fallen asleep during too many episodes to get addicted to it, the pandemic confirmed that "The Crown" might be one of the finest TV series ever created.

Here's to hoping we can continue to enjoy great TV offerings -- but eventually get out and do a lot more things in our communities this year.

dheun@sbcglobal.net