The right prescription
Longtime pharmacy tends to generations of Vero Beach residents and visitors
BY KERRY FIRTH
If the walls of Corey’s Pharmacy could talk, oh, the stories they would tell. They’d tell of days of old when the quintessential corner drug store was the hub for island visitors and residents. And they’d tell of all the secrets that unfolded at the soda fountain when area businessmen met for lunch. Some came for the fresh sandwiches, but others were there to catch the eye of the beautiful young waitress by the name of Vangie Smith.
Vero’s elite from John’s Island sat on stools next to barefoot kids stopping in for a soda after a day on the beach. Cartoonist Fontaine Fox whose comic strip, Toonerville Fox, ran in hundreds of newspapers nationwide, often sketched on a napkin while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry.
Even the seven original astronauts would occasionally stop in when they were staying in Vero Beach during their training at NASA.
Luke Corey opened the iconic drug store in 1956. Born in Harlan, Kentucky, he always dreamed of moving to Florida, which he viewed as the new frontier. After a brief stint in the Navy during World War II, he heard that Florida was actively recruiting pharmacists to move there as it developed, so he went to pharmaceutical school and got licensed in Florida.
As fate would have it, David Gryder, a retired businessman in Vero Beach, had just built a building between Easter Lily Lane and Flamevine Lane and since Orchid Island didn’t have a beachside pharmacy to serve the island residents, he thought a drugstore would be a good fit.
DREAM COMES TRUE
Gryder contacted the Florida Board of Pharmacy and was referred to the newly licensed Corey, who jumped at the chance to move south. His wife, Callie, protested but was soon packing up the family to move to Vero Beach, a place they had never even heard of before. He worked as the proprietor and pharmacist at the corner store that was named Cypress Center Pharmacy in the early days. Later, the couple bought the building and changed the name to Corey’s Pharmacy and it has remained under the same family ownership ever since.
“I was only 6 when we moved to Vero Beach,” said Judyth Dawson, daughter of Luke Corey. “I started working at the store immediately and earned a nickel an hour. Everyone who came in was a character back in those days. We got to know the regulars like the McWilliams and Corrigans and Sextons, but some of the tourists were famous. We didn’t know and they were just down to earth like the rest of us.
“I remember when I was studying government in the fifth grade I struck up a conversation with a visitor to the soda fountain by the name of Frank Kniffen,” Dawson continued. “It turned out he was a federal Court of Appeals judge and in the House of Representatives. He was also a special adviser to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. Believe it or not, he actually visited my class at Beachland Elementary and gave a talk on government.
“Then there was a time when Billy Graham’s family wintered in Vero,” she reflected. “His daughter, Bunny, wanted a bicycle and he wouldn’t buy it for her, so my dad gave her a job emptying waste baskets and sweeping the floor. I think she made $1.50 a day at that time. When the Grahams found that my dad was actually paying her they were mortified. But in the end Bunny earned enough to buy that bike.”
With all the gossip buzzing at that soda fountain, whatever Corey heard was kept confidential and he never divulged anything about anybody. He was a highly ethical man trusted by all whom he met. He happily ran a running tab for regular customers and did business on a handshake. He would also deliver medication and sundries to customers who couldn’t make it to the store or send it via a friend or family member. In fact, all of his customers were considered family to him.
Somewhere along the line, in the early ’60s, Corey removed the soda fountain and utilized the space to stock uniquely Florida souvenirs and beach accessories. And this has been carried on through the generations.
CARRYING ON FAMILY LEGACY
Corey’s grandson, Dr. Mark Corey Frankenberger, really never wanted to be anything other than a pharmacist. As a child who had trouble pronouncing the letter L, he would say he wanted “to be just like Grandpa Gook,” laughed Dawson, Frankenberger’s mother. “He started working in the store along with my mom and dad when he was about 10. He’d sweep the floor, ring up customers and deliver their prescriptions and sundries on his bicycle.”
Frankenberger attended the University of Florida where he earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Even though he was offered a teaching job at the college and courted by several corporate pharmacies, Frankenberger chose to return to his hometown and take over the family business.
“I love the personal interaction and flexibility of being an independent pharmacist,” Frankenberger said. “You can’t offer the same quality of service working at a big-box pharmacy. I grew up with a lot of the families that have been coming here for generations and pretty much know what they need when the phone rings. I’m still happy to help some of my elderly clientele sort out and schedule their pills and always willing to answer any question they may have.”
Frankenberger loves to make holidays fun for his customers. Every Halloween, the staff dresses up in elaborate Halloween costumes, usually with a common theme. Where else could you get your prescription filled by the Mad Hatter? And he’s always supporting community events and is often seen passing out drinks to 5K runners in front of his store.
Corey’s Pharmacy may be the smallest pharmacy in Vero Beach, but it’s literally packed with unique items you won’t find elsewhere. In addition to the full line of sundries, you’ll find seashells, starfish and ocean inspired jewelry crafted from shells, sea glass and stamped silver treasure coins.
There’s quality beach apparel, boogie boards, flip-flops, kids toys and a travel aisle offering everything from scented soaps to specialty cosmetics.
Even the greeting card selection has a Florida feel and the collectible Vero Beach Christmas ornaments will be arriving soon. You’ll find whatever treasure you’re looking for tucked in the nooks and crannies of this historic drug store.
Next time you stop by Corey’s be sure to strike up a conversation with Frankenberger and his staff, and listen closely to the whisper in the walls. Oh, the stories they can tell.