If you’ve lived in Indiana long (and you’re older than 20) you probably have fond memories of the late Haag Drug Stores. Within our lifetime, Haag’s was your average drug store — the kind of place where you could get pills, potions and practical advice from the pharmacist who lived right down the street. What you probably didn’t realize, as you perused the aisles for acne creams and candy buttons, is just how far back the company’s history went.
Haag Drug Stores: A National Chain with Roots in Indianapolis
The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis tells us that German-born brothers Louis and Julius Haag opened their first drug store in 1876, at 802 Massachusetts Avenue. Within a few years, there would be a chemist on (literally) every Indy street corner, so to distinguish themselves from the competition, they branded their store as a volume business — cutting prices on those items most popular with their customers, by 10- to 20-percent. This new business model was so successful, the concept quickly spread nationwide.
Haag’s was responsible for coining the phrase “cut price drugs.”
By the early 1900s, the brothers had four stores in the downtown area, open seven days a week, as late as 11:00 p.m. Business boomed for the brothers Haag — but things didn’t always go smoothly. An article in the NARD Journal (National Association of Retail Druggists) reported:
James Hemphill has been detailed for the purpose of ascertaining whether any registered pharmacist has violated the prohibition law, which can be developed by an examination of the prescriptions for whisky that have been filled at the Haag stores. Upon examination of the records of the state board of pharmacy it was disclosed that the board, October 12, 1911, on the ground of gross immorality, revoked the pharmacist’s licenses held by Julius A. Haag and Louis E. Haag … in that they used their pharmacist’s certificates of registration for the purpose of aiding them in conducting and maintaining a place in Marion County for the illegal sale of intoxicating liquors…”
(Nevermind that the major “active ingredient” of most patent “remedies” sold in the pharmacies of the day was… none other than… alcohol.)
Despite this moment of moral medical malfeasance (or perhaps because of it) Haag Drugs prospered. As the second generation of the family began to take over the business in the 1930s, the company expanded its stores into residential neighborhoods.
In the 1950s, businessman Sam B. Moxley purchased, modernized and expanded the chain even further. Moxley responded to consumer demand for a wider selection of merchandise, more convenient hours and ample marking in locations closer to home. By the end of the decade, business had increased a whopping 250-percent.
In the 1970s the chain changed ownership and expanded once again, acquiring stores from other chains in other states, making it a true nationwide organization under a series of names: Peoples Drugs, Reliable Drugs, Osco Drugs and now, CVS.
Enjoy these 1910s-era Haag ads from the Indianapolis Star:
And some Haag advertising items recently found on eBay:
Where was your neighborhood Haag Drugs?
Tell us in the comment box below.
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