The first thing that used to catch your eye when you walked to the rear of Ed Markgraf's Pharmacy were those life- size black-and-white photographs of Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, and James Dean.
Bogart and Dean . . . movie heroes of the Fifties . . . remnants of the past. They prodded memories of a distant time when Casablanca, The Wild Bunch, and Rebel Without a Cause were movies being talked about by ordinary people and not just film historians.
In so many ways, strolling into Markgraf's was like taking a trip through a time tunnel. And that's what made it such a special place.
Here was this enormous pharmacy with shelves packed with all kinds of lotions, toothpaste, stationery, electric razors, watches and pens. There was a magazine rack near the front door. It had one of the widest- ranging collections of magazines to be found anywhere in town. You also could get the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, as well as papers from Tucson and Denver. And there was the wondrously long lunch counter that ran along the east wall. If you could find a seat, you could order either the thickest sandwiches or the thickest milk shakes in town. If you were so inclined, maybe both.
And the waitresses at the counter never changed. Neither did the women, including Markgraf's wife and sometimes his daughters, who worked the cash registers. They started when Markgraf opened the place, and they all stayed to the end with him.
No place else in town was like that. And now it's over.
"Is there a big profit at the lunch counter?" I asked Markgraf one day.
"We barely break even," Markgraf said, "but we keep a lot of my people working. Besides, I have a lot of fun talking to my customers."
The counter was packed every day both at lunch and at breakfast. Markgraf's wasn't just a place to eat. It was a place where you met old friends. And no one knew more of them than Ed Markgraf himself.
He certainly had plenty of time to do that. Markgraf was past seventy, but you'd never know it because he worked seven days a week. Most days, Markgraf was there when the doors opened and still there when they closed for the night.
There wasn't a doctor, dentist, lawyer, police officer, politician or firefighter he didn't know.
If you had a toothache or a headache or any secret medical fear that you didn't want to tell your wife or anyone else about, Markgraf was the first man to see.
He would look at you over his heavy tortoise-shell glasses and ask: "How you feeling?" When you were finished explaining how you felt, Markgraf would shake his head up and down and then walk back into his pharmacy.
A few minutes later, he'd come back with a small package.
"Try some of these," he'd say. "This should give you some relief right away." "How much do I owe you?" Markgraf would look back at you with a grin.
"I'll get you next time," he'd say. And he would, too. Nothing was ever cut-rate at Markgraf Pharmacy. You were treated first-class and you paid first- class, too.
It wasn't that Markgraf dispensed drugs without prescription. He was extremely careful about that. It was just that he knew what had become available without prescription that could turn the trick just as well.
To anyone who liked gadgets, Markgraf's store was a wonderland. His shelves were filled with all kinds of things that you could end up buying on impulse. Expensive pens, electric razors, sunglasses, watches and radios.
People loved his place in the Uptown Plaza and they never dreamed there would come a time when the doors of Markgraf's would not be open to the public.
But things started to change a little more than a year ago. "I could tell you about it," Markgraf said several times, "but it wouldn't be good for business if you wrote about it." "Then don't tell me," I said, "and neither of us will have to worry about me writing about it by mistake." But Markgraf was clearly agonizing inside. Then the City of Phoenix began work on improving Central Avenue. For more than six months, business was decimated because customers couldn't get into Markgraf's driveway.
Markgraf fought the good fight. He was on the phone every morning badgering the mayor's office to clear his driveway. They knew who he was and they tried to oblige.
New owners took over the shopping center. They began upgrading the place. Markgraf helped them with his ideas. He was the one who suggested that outdoor music and events be brought to the shopping center.
An irritating battle began over what would be an equitable rent for Markgraf to pay. I don't think the new owners ever realized how valuable Markgraf Pharmacy was to their shopping center.
And they never counted on how stubborn the old man from Wisconsin could be when he made up his mind about something. They set their price too high. Markgraf wouldn't bend.
So one day it came down to the point where further negotiations were fruitless. And Ed Markgraf closed his doors for the last time. Within days, he was working again at the Safeway store at Seventh Street and Bethany Home. Indomitable, he refused to quit. Each year we seem to lose one more of the special kind of stores that gave the city a small measure of grace.
Not too long ago, Entz-White and C. Steele's closed on Camelback, not far down the street from Markgraf's.
Several months ago, they closed down the State Office Supply, home of the Montblanc pen man, Pasquale Pagliuca.
And now, Ed Markgraf is gone, too.
If you had a secret medical fear that you didn't want to tell your wife or anyone else about, Markgraf was the first man to see.
Each year we seem to lose one more of the special kind of stores that gave the city a small measure of grace.