If you’re looking for a place to fill your prescription around Milford, you’ve got plenty of chain store choices. There’s the expansive Walgreens across from Shaw’s, the CVS near the Oval and no less than three Rite Aid stores within the town boundaries. While the convenience of drive-through windows, ample parking and text message reminders are handy perks of the 21st Century pharmacy, the soulless convenience that comes with chain store dominance has outpriced the personal touch of the traditional mom-and-pop drug stores.
In Milford, “pop” was Raymond A. Dyer, who opened his Dyer’s Drugs on the Oval in January 1929 and spent more than six decades in business. A bonified Milford institution on the west corner of South Street and Union Square, catty corner to Town Hall (where Café on the Oval now stands), Dyer took over in a former ice cream and candy shop and continued to operate his own soda fountain in the pharmacy.
Ray Dyer was a native of Berlin, Massachusetts who had worked five years at a drug store in Littleton and obtained a pharmacist’s license in three states. Seeking a town in which to settle with a young family and put his name on a pharmacy door, Dyer decided on Milford. But with two other pharmacies in what was then usually referred to as “the Square,” Dyer did not fill a prescription in his first 24 days in business and began to wonder what he got himself into. Despite the slow start, his professionalism and straight-forward friendliness would begin to win both the hearts – and prescriptions of locals.
It was an old-fashioned small-town pharmacy. It included an elevated drug store counter, a soda fountain where you could order a cheese & olive sandwich along with your ice cream cone and high-backed booths where school kids would congregate each day after the bell. Dyer’s was also the place in town to buy a bus ticket, send a telegram or pick up a little bromo-seltzer.
Not that Dyer’s Drugs didn’t have its challenging moments. On the store's 40th anniversary in 1969, in a message to the community, Ray Dyer remembered some of the national and local trials over the years. The list included the 1929 stock market crash, a 1933 robbery, the 1938 hurricane, the Great Depression, rationing, and war – among others. A volunteer fire fighter and deputy chief in the Milford Fire Department, Dyer would find his own establishment up in flames in March 1950 on the night of his silver wedding anniversary. Although he missed the celebration with wife Florence, his merchandise was saved when townspeople rushed in – not to loot the store – but to rescue what they could, storing it in their homes until Dyer's could reopen.
But it’s not fires or war shortages that makes a pharmacy like Dyer’s a tough sell these days – it’s an economic environment where it is next to impossible to compete with the big boys like Walgreens or CVS. Dyer’s Drugs held on into the 1990s but today there are no Milford pharmacies that could be called an heir to that legacy. Indeed, the days of family-owned pharmacies seem to have gone the way of the milkman and nylon stockings.
The Korean War Memorial on Elm Street