Jim and Lorene Horton retell stories from their family business—a successful and cherished part of the Athens community.
Listening to Jim and Lorene Horton talk about their 50 years of running ADD Drug Store in Five Points is like sitting at their soda fountain and enjoying an ice cream float.
“Used to, when the kids got out of high school, they’d come up to ADD to the soda fountain,” says Jim. “Most of the time, it’s fine, but kids are going to be kids, and they called me over from the pharmacy one day because they had these three young kids up there who were just being totally unruly. So, I said to one, ‘How would you like it if I were to tell your mother how you were acting?’ He said, ‘You don’t know who my mother is.’ And I said, ‘I tell you what, you live on such and such street, in such and such a house.’ And the other two looked at him and said [in a worried voice], ‘I think he knows your mother.’” Jim laughs. “I know his mother would have been all over him. Nowadays, they would have told me to take a hike.”
This past May, Jim and Lorene decided it was time to step away from their family business, which has been a successful and cherished part of the Athens community for a half century.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be greeted by name when I come in to fill prescriptions as so much of the business that we do elsewhere is so impersonal,” reads one of the cards the Hortons have received from their customers. “I just wanted to thank you both for all your kindness and helpfulness over these years.”
“It’s been a fun 50 years getting to know the customers and them getting to know us,” says Lorene. “It’s all about embracing. Embrace your customers and embrace your employees and your business will thrive.” Fortunately for the Hortons and Athens, the new owner, Lafayette, GA native Kevin Florence, knows the value of family-owned business, having grown up in his parents’ pharmacy.
“Kevin met his wife here at Georgia, and they wanted to stay in Athens and raise their one-year-old son,” says Lorene. “He’s been working as a pharmacist, and he’d talked to us about buying the store, but that was before we knew Jim was having health problems. Then in March last year, we found out Jim had Wegener’s Disease.” Between his Wegener’s treatment and triple bypass heart surgery last fall, Jim couldn’t stay in the store. “We really wanted to have someone who owned it to be there like Jim was,” says Lorene. “The customers had really depended on knowing when they walked in the door that they were going to see him and talk to him. Kevin’s young, he’s 29, but Jim was 24 [when he started].”
Jim’s father began the family business with Horton’s drugstore in downtown Athens in 1947. “We grew up in the drugstore,” says Jim. “My brother stayed downtown, and Dad sent me out to Five Points when I got out of school. So, that’s where I’ve been since 1960, and my brother’s been running the one downtown.”
Horton’s downtown is where Jim met Lorene, who began working there when she was in high school and Jim was in pharmacy school at UGA. Lorene gets tickled remembering the fun that the young Horton’s crowd had playing pranks on each other. “They had these little sticks that you could put in cigarettes, and Jim—I don’t know where he got them—but we’d put those in our coworker’s cigarettes, and when she’d light the cigarette, it would explode,” she laughs. “He wrapped up a gift one time and he gave it to me, and I opened it, and it exploded!”
“It was the kind that had two strings on it and when you pulled it, it goes pop,” explains Jim. “I’d taken a box, worked it from the inside, glued one end to the bottom and the other end to the top, so when she’d rip it open, it’d go pop-pop.”
Lorene graduated high school and left Horton’s to attend Athens Business College. She and Jim married in 1967, and she worked in a law office until the birth of their first child, Angela, in 1969 (followed by Cathy in 1971). Jim managed the “add”itional store, which the family didn’t name Horton’s to avoid confusion with Hodgson’s Pharmacy that was already in the neighborhood (still there and also recently under new ownership). According to Lorene, “As far as having a salary, the money went back into the business more than in Jim’s pocket, and over the years he’s just done an excellent job building up the drugstore and clientele.” When the girls went to school, Lorene began working at ADD.
“We’ve always worked together,” says Jim. “We left each other alone. She did what she needed to do, and I did what I needed to do. I think as long as you don’t decide that both of you have got to be in control of the same thing, it works.”
“A lot of people don’t understand us being together 24/7,” says Lorene. “We have always enjoyed each other’s company, and not felt like we’ve had to have someone with us or be entertaining or be entertained. We enjoy just sitting and watching TV or just riding around in the car or whatever.”
The favorite place of enjoyment at ADD is the lunch counter and soda fountain. “It’s more of a family snack bar than just students or people who patronize,” says Lorene. “We have people who come in every morning for breakfast who call themselves The Coffee Club.”
The counter has also hosted birthday parties and even a bridal shower. The Hortons also love Christmas, when they treat their employees and morning regulars to an annual holiday breakfast cooked by Jim and Lorene before the store opens.
“We’ll fill up the stools with the employees and have a good time and give them what we’re going to for Christmas,” says Lorene. “The Coffee Club will come in at 9 o’clock and we’ll have enough left to feed them breakfast. And then Sherry White is a minister and she will bring her keyboard, and Jones Drewry—he’s in his 90s now—he will sit on that stool and play the keyboard from memory, and we will sing Christmas carols. And we’ve been doing that for the last I don’t know how many years.”
In August of 1997, things turned tough for the Hortons when lightning hit the store and burned it. Jim and Lorene were on vacation when Lorene’s sister called with the news. When Lorene told Jim what had happened, “He turned about as white as he could and laid back on the bed. Lightning went in the meter of the store, which went into the electrical panel. It exploded in the stock room and just burned everything except the front end, but there was so much smoke and water damage they had to gut everything.” She smiled and added, “Except the soda fountain.”
Since their daughter Angela was also on vacation in Florida with her fiancé’s family, their younger daughter, Cathy, was left to mind the store. She’d taken the back-up computer disc of their customers' records with her before leaving the store that evening, so they were able to set up temporary shop at the downtown Horton’s store.
“We worked off of a card table down there using computers and their stock,” says Jim.
Despite a delay in delivery of their cash registers, ADD was back in business at Five Points the first week of December. “We did not put one announcement in the paper to say that we were opening,” says Lorene. “People rode by and saw the doors open...” She shakes her head in amazement. “People were lined out the door to eat at the snack bar, and it stayed that way until after February.”
“You had everybody sitting on the counter stools,” adds Jim. “And in that whole area between the soda fountain and the fixtures in the middle of the store, they were standing in there all deep, just waiting, waiting, waiting.”
“That first day, we still didn’t have the cash registers. When Charlotte Marshall came in and saw us working out of a box, she went home and came back with a couple of cigar boxes, and we were making change out of a cigar box,” Lorene laughs. “It was fun, but it was chaos for a long time there. That was December of ‘97.” Then she gets quiet. “And then it was March of ‘98 when we lost our oldest daughter. A tractor trailer truck hit her. Jim had thought losing that business in the fire was devastating, having to work downtown at the drugstore filling prescriptions and sitting in a chair at that table. You could just see how stressful that had been on him and how it was... It just didn’t seem like he was going to make it. He’d thought, oh, this is just terrible. I’d said, 'Well, this is not the worst thing that could ever happen to you.' And then in March we lost our daughter, and I said, 'Now this is the worst thing.'
“The community certainly supported us through the fire, but when we lost our daughter...” Lorene’s voice becomes very soft. “When Angela passed away, you just cannot express how much those people meant to us. They loved us through the fire, and they loved us through losing her, and now this last year with Jim’s health. I mean, they’re more than family. And it’s not just the Five Points people, it’s the community as a whole. All over Clarke County, Watkinsville, Oconee County, some in Madison County. I mean it’s just... It’s a business you enjoy and you love being there, and yet you know it’s time you’ve got to give it up.” She smiles. “It’s been a nice adventure there.”
“Thanks to the patients and the customers for their loyalty and support,” says Jim. “And for their friendship for all the number of years.”