Scanning Around With Gene: The Death of Free Calendars and Local Drug Stores

Two developments this week lead me to today’s topic. First, I began my search for my main 2013 calendar – I like to get a calendar a few months early so I can start writing important dates in it prior to the new year. And second, the last remaining independent drug store in my town went out of business and closed its doors forever.

Independent drug stores are a dying breed thanks to the big chains like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid. I guess the little guys just can’t compete. I worked my way through high school delivering drugs for a local mom-and-pop drug store, so they remain close to my heart. Every town had a couple in those days, and personal service (including free delivery) was just assumed. The store where I worked had been in business since the 1920s and still had the remnants of a soda fountain down in the basement. Today’s images are monthly illustrations and some ads from a free calendar given out by Gallaher Drug Stores in 1962, locations unknown. Click on any image for a larger version.

Of course even in 1962 there were drug store chains (Gallaher obviously had more than one location) and the calendars were mostly produced by wholesale distributors who would imprint local store information on them. They were able to give them out free because they contained advertising for popular products and remedies of the day.

But you still felt like you were getting something of value. Most free calendars had illustrations or photographs adorning each month and were meant to be attractive hanging by the kitchen phone.

I’m sure there are still free calendars out there, though I don’t see them like I used to. Perhaps, thanks to smart phones, people don’t use calendars the way the once did.

Yet I still see plenty of calendars for sale in stores like Staples and Barnes and Noble, so I assume there is still a pretty big need out there.

We gave out calendars at the drug store where I worked for several years back in the 1970s, and people really looked forward to getting them. They became somewhat of a tradition in many homes. I’d take them with me when I delivered drugs to the older folks, who really appreciated getting them.

Working at a pharmacy, by the way, was a terrific high-school job, even though I got paid $1.35 per hour back then. It was fun helping out the pharmacist and waiting on customers. On Saturdays it was just the pharmacist and me, so I got to do a little bit of everything.

Yet I have to admit that I did not, in recent years, support the local pharmacy in my town. The convenience of CVS being open until 9 and on the weekends was too compelling and so I switched to the big chain.

This year I’ve decided on a non-themed, office-style calendar that has no pictures or illustrations – just big squares with the date in them. I couldn’t find a subject matter that appealed to me and that I thought I could stomach for a whole year.

I guess the era of free calendars and independent drug stores is pretty much gone, much like many of the brands shown in today’s column. Things have changed, that’s for sure, from the days when you could get your prescriptions (and your free calendar) delivered by a 16-year-old kid driving a beat up old Chevrolet Corvair.

Posted on: November 3, 2012

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on

5 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: The Death of Free Calendars and Local Drug Stores

  1. Free calendars are still around, they are just mostly used by nonprofit organizations. Already this fall I’ve received calendars from World Wildlife Fund, Ocean Conservancy, and a local human service charity. They’re still out there, you just have to know where to look. Or who to donate to, I suppose.

  2. I still get one every year at my office from our insurance company. A small standup calendar with green “leather” frame and gold foil embossing. I must admit, I usually don’t keep it around all year. If it had interesting pictures, I might. We also get a large wall calendar every year from another vendor that has beautiful pictures of different scenes of nature. I think the guys in our machine shop hang those up.

  3. Gene,

    The company I work for cares about independent pharmacies. Our goal is to help them not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century.

    My local pharmacy, the one I go to every month, has been around since 1913, still in the same building, and their soda fountain is still in wonderfully working order. A competitor of theirs is the “new kid on the block”, because they didn’t open their doors until 30 years later, right after WWII.

    For those of us who appreciate old-fashioned service that comes with a smile that isn’t “trained and strained”, we’re happy to spend a few cents more by shopping with local independents, rather than give our hard-earned dollars to the ubiquitous chain up the street.

    As always, Gene, thanks for the look back, and please keep on scanning treasures for me to enjoy!

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Sanity is a relative concept.
    If you don’t believe me,
    let me introduce my relatives.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  4. Hi

    My dad owned one of those corner drug stores and we always used the calendars, thanks for the memory lane trip.

  5. Gene, I always look at your column and enjoy all the work you do to put things together. Thanks for all the work.

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