Sorg Sample Pharmacies in Cedar Rapids, Marion close after 140 years

Was last locally-owned pharmacy in Marion; customer records to be transferred to Walgreen's

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With a lot of tears shed by the owners and longtime customers, Sorg Sample Pharmacy, Marion's last independently-owned drugstore at 1138 Seventh Ave., closed Thursday after 140 years.

Edwin and Harriet Morris, who owned the Sorg Sample Medical Pharmacy at 2310 Johnson Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids, also closed that location on Thursday. Both buildings will be available for lease, but cannot be rented to a licensed pharmacy for five years under an agreement with Walgreen's, which purchased the businesses.

Julie Wittnebel, daughter of Edwin and Harriet Morris and business manager at Sorg Sample Pharmacies, said customers' prescription records will be transferred to Walgreen's as part of the purchase agreement.

"The files from Sorg Sample Pharmacy in Marion will be going to the Walgreen's store at 1225 Seventh Ave. in Marion, just across the street," Wittnebel said. "For the Sorg Sample Medical Pharmacy on Johnson Avenue SW, the files will be going to the Walgreen's at the corner of Johnson Avenue and Edgewood Road SW."

Wittnebel said the decision to sell their business and retire was hard for her parents.

"We've been doing this ourselves as the owners since 1984," she said. "My dad started with Sorg in 1965 as a pharmacy intern.

"I told my folks 'You can go out like Fritz Sorg, who retired and had a good 10 to 12 years to travel and do what he wanted, or you  could be like Carl Owen, who died on the job and they had to carry him out. Fritz Sorg bought the store from Mr. Owen's estate."

Wittnebel said the announced closing of the Marion pharmacy, which has been operated continuously since 1872, has prompted an outpouring of reactions from longtime customers.

"We have a 102-year-old woman who called us when she found out and said 'Oh my goodness. I've been going to your store for all my life and my parents went to your store for all their lives,'" Wittnebel said. "We've had every reaction that you can imagine. We've only had one or two people be upset, and come in and yell.

"There have been a lot of tears and hugs, and we've received a lot of candy, cookies and flowers. We've really felt loved."

Sorg Pharmacy was founded as Owen & Chamberlain in 1872. It became Owen Drug in 1890 when Chamberlain moved to Des Moines and form Chamberlain Drug Co.

Carl Owen was Marion's pharmacist for more than 60 years. When he died in 1944, Fritz Sorg bought the pharmacy, which was located at 1144 Seventh Ave. in Marion.

In 1960, Fritz Sorg moved the business next door to 1138 Seventh Ave. He sold the pharmacy in 1975 to Lois Emanuel, who had been his right-hand assistant, enabling him to serve three terms in the Iowa House between 1966 and 1972.

Emanuel, one of only three women among 51 pharmacy graduates in 1950 from the University of Iowa, initially encountered resistance from customers to fill their prescription until they were convinced that she was a legitimate pharmacist. She retired in 1984 when she sold Sorg Pharmacy to Edwin and Harriet Morris.

Sorg Pharmacy escaped major damage in a February 2002 fire that severely damaged the Park Place Hotel Antique Mall building in Marion. It was forced to relocate across the street to Marion Square Plaza for nearly 11 months while the fire-damaged building was restored.

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