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If you’re on a first-name basis with Robby, then you’re probably also on a first-name basis with A. He remembers when Andy met Jane, and when Tricia met Dusty, and he probably knows why the fire truck is squealing and the news van is hovering. “I have one of those riding mowers.” He walks outside to his red pickup truck. I have never had to throw a drink in my date’s face.“If there’s a news van downtown, we’ll get a call asking why it’s there.It’s the center of the town, where everyone gets together and gossips.” Sometimes, Central does more than just provide a venue for gossip. Everyone in Bessemer City eventually passes through these doors.She’s mostly found at the pharmacy now, but she still occasionally helps out behind the soda fountain, where her version of a chocolate shake (the secret, she says, is blending vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate syrup until it reaches just the right thickness) is a customer favorite.When Tricia first began working here, Dusty Carpenter was one of her most regular customers. It turned out that Dusty liked the milkshakes, but he really liked the service.Somewhere in the middle, you can find out most anything that’s happening in Bessemer City.“If a fire truck goes down the street, people call the drugstore to ask what’s going on,” says Jeremy Will, who worked at Central Drug for parts of nine years.
Robby Putnam keeps the history of Central Drug in photo albums, on walls, and in the nimble minds of longtime customers like 88-year-old A. Fortunately, Jessie stored them at his house instead of junking them.“We can teach the people we hire the elements of the business. But right now, the 88-year-old has to go mow his lawn.We can’t teach them that spirit of customer service if they don’t have it already.” The job is also a legitimate training ground — seven of the summer employees have eventually gone to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to become pharmacists. Slide a photo in front of him, and he’ll tell you not only who is pictured, but where it was taken and what eventually happened to that building. “I cheat a little,” he says, almost apologetically.Kids earn their first paycheck here; Robby hires two high school students every summer, and it’s the most sought-after job in town.The counter buzzes with activity every afternoon after school.