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Our History

Serving Since 1935

Public Drug Co. in the 1940's

Public Drug Co. was founded in 1935 at 601 Central Avenue in the heart of downtown Great Falls, Montana. For nearly seventy-five years Public Drug stood virtually unchanged until a recent fire swept through the building that has been the store's home since it's opening. Through the years, the owners of Public Drug have created and maintained a family-friendly working and shopping environment. Superior customer service has always been the company's top priority. Patrons know they can expect their orders to be filled and delivered to them in a timely manner. The drug store offers open accounts for added convenience with deliveries and special orders are never a problem. Prices are competitive with other pharmacies plus the store offers free delivery, anywhere in the city, Monday through Friday. Employees are usually long-term as the company offers full medical benefits as well as fair wages and a positive working atmosphere.

Bill Spater and Leonard Morrow were pharmacists from Fort Benton that moved to Great Falls and founded Public Drug after purchasing Calahan Brothers Drug Store. After World War II, Jim Donahue and Ray Brown bought the business. Sometime in the 1970's, Jim LePard, Bing (Jon) Wilson and Ray Sanne bought into the company. When Sanne retired, longtime employee Jeff Jovick and his brother-in-law, pharmacist Todd LePard purchased stock in the company. In February of 2009, Wilson retired leaving Jovick and LePard to run the longest operating drug store in the same location in Great Falls.

The Night of the Fire

On May 24th, at a little after midnight, Jovick received a phone call from the alarm service telling him that the store's alarm had been set off and they believed it was due to the fire in the Set Free Ministries' building which housed Public Drug. Arriving on the scene shortly thereafter, he could do little but watch as a river of water poured off the landmark Public Drug Co. marquee. Flames raged through the upper floors of the building and the fire department worked for three days to extinguish the fire completely. After the shock of the situation had subsided a little, Jovick consulted with his partner, Todd LePard and formed a plan to temporarily relocate the store while the fire department conducted its investigation on the integrity of the building. The store was obviously flooded and smoke-filled, but the owners had no idea of the wreckage they would walk into Tuesday afternoon. The store was destroyed. By some miracle, the store's bookkeeping records and the computer back-up tapes were intact, but the rest of the enitre store was a loss. Employees shed tears as they waded through the mess the next day. Mounds of charred embers filled the check-stand and must have traveled with the water down through the ceiling as the store itself did not receive any fire damage. The basement flooded to five feet deep and employees discovered a heavy, old computer monitor that had traveled from a far back corner of the basement and was resting atop a worktable at the opposite end of the room. At least two feet of water filled the main floor of the store and all of the celing tiles became water-soaked and crashed down on the merchandise and fixtures. Hopes of cleaning up the space and moving back in faded.

The Day After the Fire

The owners knew it was critical that the store remained downtown and an ideal location would be somewhere on Central Avenue. Almost instantly calls had started pouring in from local businesses and customers offering assistance. Ian Davidson offered them a spot at 301 Central Avenue in the former location of Pizazz, generously granting three months rent-free to help the store get back on its feet. A plan was set in motion and in less than two weeks, Public Drug was back to filling prescriptions and delivering to its loyal customers thanks to the support of local businesses and its faithful customers.

Temporary Location @301 Central Ave

From June 2009 to November 2011, Public Drug operated out of their temporary location at 301 Central Avenue in the Davidson Companies office building. The space was small but workable and the store was well received. The owners eventually realized the store needed more space and purchased the lot on the opposite end of the block across the avenue. Construction on the new Public Drug Co. building on the corner of 4th Street and Central Avenue began in March of 2011 and was completed in November. The saturday after Thanksgiving, the Public Drug crew packed and moved the entire store over the weekend. On Monday, November 28th, 2011, Public Drug Co. opened the doors of its new home to the community at 324 Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls, MT. The lot the store was built on had been empty for a few years after a fire destroyed the old Montana Bank building which housed B & B Loan & Rental.

New Location at 324 Central Avenue

Oswood Constuction built the store as designed by L'Heureux Page Werner architecture. The store is designed to emulate the original location and it was constructed beautifully to blend in downtown. The original Public Drug Co. marquee was completely refurbished by Cat Graphics with new neon tubing and the sign has never looked better. Upon completion of the building, installation of the sign was the icing on the cake. The neon glow has been restored downtown and the store is hard to miss!

Public Drug Co. Marquee

Public Drug's new home is open and spacious with large windows and high ceilings. One wall in the store was left with the brick exposed as an accent wall. The owners and staff hope customers will find the store comfortable to shop and find what they need easily.

The old-fashioned charm of Public Drug cannot be completely reproduced in its new location, but the spirit of the store will carry on. Public Drug Co. has a new look with the same friendly crew. Employees hope people will come to check out the new location and find the same superior customer service that they are used to getting from Public Drug.

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324 Central Avenue, Great Falls, MT 59401

Call Us: 406-453-1497