TRINITY — Nicole Eaton summed up the feelings of many in this hamlet when news spread that Larry Martin was selling Trinity Discount Drugs.
“It just can’t be true,” she said. “Larry has been here for so many people.”
After 34 years of filling prescriptions — but more importantly, making people smile — Martin has retired.
On Monday, Ben Moultrie of Chalybeate took over as owner of the business Martin and wife Linda opened April 3, 1978.
The Martins have been fixtures in Trinity for most of their 45-year marriage. But Larry Martin, 68, is confident the business is in the hands of an owner who will carry on the down-home atmosphere he started when he filled his first prescription of cough syrup.
“I’m going to continue to work part time, but I know Ben, and he will do a good job,” Martin said.
Moultrie said he always wanted to own a small-town pharmacy like this one.
“I understand what Larry has created here, and I’m going to carry it on,” Moultrie said.
Martin started making plans to sell the business three years ago, but he was looking for the “right situation.”
“I didn’t want to sell out to some big chain,” he said.
Eaton is thankful the pharmacy will remain locally owned.
“Through the years, we got more than a prescription filled,” she said. “If something was wrong, we would sometimes call Larry before going to the doctor.”
“You can still call,” Moultrie said as he listened from behind the elevated counter.
It was the down-home environment at a drug store Willard Burt owned in Austinville, where Martin grew up, that led him to pharmacy school. Burt’s business was the first place he and friends often stopped on their way to and from school. After graduating from Decatur High in 1962, Martin enrolled in the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University.
Influenced by the penny candy and nickel Coca-Colas he purchased at Burt’s store, the twin who was born with a congenital heart defect said his goal was to own his business. But after graduating from Samford in 1969, he worked at Gibson’s drug store in Westgate Shopping Center on Moulton Street and Thrift Drugs across the street. He also moonlighted at several other pharmacies.
After almost a decade of doing “what I had to” to feed his family, Martin went against conventional wisdom and embarked on a venture to open a business in Trinity. At the time, most drug stores were in shopping centers. But after completing a demographic study covering a five-mile radius, Martin was convinced Trinity was the place for him. With a small-business loan, he purchased a former pool hall called Dago’s Den.
Like his colleagues, Martin’s wife was skeptical about the decision.
“I didn’t tell him because I knew this is what he always wanted to do,” she said.
Martin continued to work 60-hour weeks while renovating the pool hall. His daughters, Brette and Suzie, slept on used shelving while the Martins renovated the building. A college classmate who was a business owner helped him purchase inventory, he said.
“We had one of everything,” Martin joked. “That’s all we could afford.”
For the first six months, he and his wife were the only employees. The business grew, and for 21 years opened from 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays. Even with the extended hours, Martin continued to get phone calls “all hours of the night” to fill prescriptions. His daughters said he never turned off the ringer.
“Yes, I’ve gone down there during all times of the night, but people don’t know when they are going to get sick,” Martin said.
While his family supports his decision to sell, Martin’s daughters said they are sad.
“I’m excited for him, but we’re very sentimental about this store,” said Suzie Stetler, who will continue to work at the business.
The Martins’ oldest daughter, Brette Martin Burnes, becomes emotional when she talks about the sale.
“I want him to enjoy his retirement, but this will no longer be Daddy’s store,” she said. “It’s like a death in the family.”
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