My Aunt Opened a Business Out of Spite
I don’t remember my aunt being married. Her husband, an uncle I vaguely recall, died suddenly of a heart attack when he was young.
They were on a beach vacation, and my aunt returned from vacation a devastated widow.
But I don’t remember her devastation. My memories are of an aunt who was larger than life; businesswoman, town council member, bridge player, traveler, and aunt who stepped in as the grandmother I never knew.
She took me to New York City when, as a teenager, I had never ventured beyond the confines of our small town. She believed kids should “see the world.”
She made cakes that fell apart, painted pictures that won contests, and hired me and my cousins to work behind the soda fountain of her pharmacy when we were old enough to count change.
I only learned later how she came to own the pharmacy.
When her husband died, there had been an arrangement with his business partner. They worked together in a Main Street drug store (that’s what pharmacies were called back then), and she was supposed to inherit her husband’s share.
But it was only a verbal agreement, never solidified in writing. Who after all, expected a young man to die suddenly while on vacation?
My aunt got nothing from the verbal agreement.
There were family conversations expressing outrage and anger. How could the business partner not live up to his word? How could he leave a poor widow destitute and alone?
But these conversations soon took an unexpected turn. She’s starting a business. She’s going to compete with him.
My aunt somehow managed to scrape up enough money to rent a small place as narrow as an alley, and to stock it with medicine. There was no soda fountain; no makeup, candy, hair products or other things to entice people who might be inclined to spend a few extra dollars.
But her drug store was directly across the street from her late husband’s store, and she was open for business.
I described my aunt as larger than life. Others must have thought so, too, because customers were soon pouring into her little store, despite its lack of frills.
She not only sold them medicine. She listened to their problems, delivered medicine directly to their door if they were too sick or feeble to leave home, and treated everyone as best friend and confidante.
People soon urged her to run for town council, and she did, winning by a landslide. They later urged her to run for mayor, but she declined. She liked the current mayor.
A few years into her business venture, she was able to purchase a large pharmacy on the corner, just one block down from her competition. It became a thriving downtown business, complete with soda fountain and everything else drug stores had in those days.
She later sold my father a third of her business for a dollar. He had lost his job and had gone to work for her, but she knew he was an independent man who would never be happy working for someone else, so for a dollar, she made him a partner.
As an impoverished widow, she started a business because she needed an income. But I can’t help but believe she also started it out of spite. Why else would she open her store directly across the street from her competitor, and smile with satisfaction every time she lured a customer away?