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Plumb’s Drug Store, Famed for Its Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain, Lives on as Independent Pharmacy with Focus on Treating Customers Like Family

by on February 26, 2020 5:00 AM
Bellefonte, PA

BELLEFONTE — Plumb’s Drug Store first opened its doors in 1951, with Edward L. Plumb Jr. at the helm. Not a lot has changed since. Walk inside and you’ll see much of the same decor and fixtures that have been there since the 1950s.

“You walk in here, you walk back into time,” says current owner John Luckovich.

Luckovich is testament to the fact that the friendly faces you see behind the pharmacy counter at 105 N. Allegheny St. in Bellefonte haven’t changed much either over the last six decades. Luckovich took what he calls his “first paycheck job” from Plumb in high school, before attending the same pharmacy school as Plumb, returning to work at the store as a pharmacist in 1974.

Luckovich worked alongside another pharmacist, Eugene Sebastianelli, who, after working for Plumb for about 25 years, bought the business following Plumb’s retirement in 1981. Following Sebastianelli’s passing in 2012, Luckovich purchased the business and took over.

“The three of us had been working together over the years,” says Luckovich. "There have only been three owners and we all knew each other on a personal level. … It was kind of like passing it from one family to the next.”

In discussing what motivated him to take on the store’s ownership, Luckovich references his unwillingness to watch the business shutter or succumb to a “big box” pharmacy. Plumb’s Drug Store is currently one of the few independent pharmacies left in Centre County.

“I knew what would happen, like what’s happening to all other independent pharmacies,” he says. “They’re getting bought out by what I call ‘big box.’ … Most are bought out by larger chain stores and [the chain stores] close them. They don’t keep them open. They just close them, assimilate the clientele that would have been with that independent pharmacy, and it’s gone forever.

“I felt there were too many people here in Bellefonte that … are like family. They’re not customers. They’re like family to me. Since I came in ’74, I’ve seen probably close to four generations of families. When I came, it would’ve been someone’s great-grandfather or great-grandmother, grandfather and grandmother, then their parents and them, and now their kids. You get to know them all, where they live, what they do, their jobs. It’s a very personal relationship you have with your customers. They say nothing ever changes, and I don’t know what else I’d want to do.”

(Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert) John Luckovich, now Plumb's owner, has served generations of local families since starting as a pharmacist at the store in 1974.

Luckovich credits the store’s loyal customer base for its longevity, noting that many continue to purchase prescriptions from Plumb’s Drug Store even if they could pay a lesser cost at a chain pharmacy.

“In most cases it’s not a lot [more] – $3 or $4,” he says. “People are willing to pay the extra to know they’re not just going to be a number. They’ll have a relationship with the pharmacist, with the drug store.”

Luckovich works the pharmacy with one other pharmacist, accepting customers every day of the week, 12 hours a day Monday through Friday, nine on Saturday, and two on Sunday.

A staple on the Plumb’s Drug Store team both now and throughout the store’s entire history? Local high school students.

Hiring high school students was always a goal for Plumb from the beginning, according to Luckovich.

“Mr. Plumb had a couple people he knew at the local high school in the front offices and they would know what students would make good workers or someone looking for a job. He’d call and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a couple of people,’” Luckovich says.

He estimates the number of high school students who’ve worked in the store could be into the thousands. Just like Luckovich himself, a lot of those students had their first paid work experience at Plumb’s.

“It’s amazing how you see a person evolve from a high school student into a really good young adult,” he says. “They learn how to deal with people, how to deal with money, about responsibility. It’s truly amazing to see.”

(Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert) Kaitlyn Alterio scoops ice cream at the vintage soda fountain, which, with the adjacent card and gift shop, adds to the pharmacy's unique flavor.

Two things that have changed over the years at Plumb’s are the soda fountain and the gift shop.

Originally, in addition to the soda fountain, Plumb’s operated a small dinette in the store’s basement. After its closure in 1965, the upstairs soda fountain was retained and it still serves up old-fashioned treats today. In 1967, the soda fountain was moved slightly to make room for entry into a next-door Hallmark card and gift store. Even with these features, though, Luckovich notes that Plumb’s focus is and always will be the pharmacy.

“The soda fountain is nostalgic and it’s a way to get people into the store, but the business has always been prescriptions,” he says. “The card shop and gifts were added on as it doesn’t distract from the pharmacy, and if someone’s waiting, they can go over and buy a card.”

As for who’ll take over the reins once Luckovich’s time to retire approaches, it’s still an open question. But if history truly does repeat itself, Bellefonte residents and visitors alike can be assured that Plumb’s Drug Store is here to stay.


Holly Riddle is a freelance writer in State College.

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