Changemakers: The story of Thomas Pharmacy in Laurel

Changemakers: The story of Thomas Pharmacy in Laurel

LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - It’s been nearly 70 years since Isaac L. Thomas, known as “Doc,” opened Thomas Pharmacy in Laurel on Front Street.

“My father came and, with conversation with these two and two other black physicians and dentists, made the decision to move to Laurel and open this pharmacy in July of 1951,” said Larry Thomas, owner of Thomas Pharmacy.

Larry said Doc opened Thomas Pharmacy during a time when the African American presence in business was thriving in the area.

“In towns like Laurel, Hattiesburg, Meridian, there were thriving- hundreds of Black businesses at that time,” Larry said. “There were in Laurel, probably had three different Black business districts. So Black entrepreneurship existing in Laurel is what attracted my dad to Laurel.”

Larry purchased the pharmacy in 1980.

“The story is ‘your dad gave you a pharmacy?’ No, it wasn’t quite like that,” Larry said. “There was an arm length transaction to purchase the pharmacy from my father. So, we were business partners in that we did business with one another, which produced a very healthy relationship between us.”

However, his memories from the pharmacy go back much further.

“I was picked up and dropped off at the pharmacy 3 or 4 years old going to kindergarten, so the story is that I began ringing up the cash register on top of a Coca-Cola box when I was 6 or 7 years old,” Larry said.

Written in Doc’s own words in his biography, “The Journey of a Mississippi Soldier in the Second World War” by Cleveland Payne, Larry moving the pharmacy to Gardiner Center expanded its clientele base to all races.

But, one of Larry’s favorite memories in the pharmacy goes back to before that time.

“I was at the store, this was probably the first Monday I was out of school and one of our neighbors, Mrs. Johnson, lived about a block and a half from the pharmacy,” Larry said. “And I could see her walking down the street with an umbrella in her hand coming to the pharmacy. And I said, ‘that looks like Mrs. Johnson.’ Mrs. Johnson walks into the store, ‘I heard that Larry had gotten out of pharmacy school and I’m looking for him to fill my prescription.’ And so, it built my confidence for her to ask for my professional help at that early, early age and it was a very, very strong confidence builder for me.”

The pharmacy has a good chance of staying in the family.

“I have a son that’s 16 years old that’s a junior in high school. He plans to go to pharmacy school,” Larry said.

Thomas Pharmacy is located inside Grocery Depot at 170 Leontyne Price Blvd. and has a second location at 2341 Highway 15 North.

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