Phyllis McGuire | View from the Village: Closing of Harts' leaves students' needs unfilled

WILLIAMSTOWN - After doing business on Spring Street for 85 years, Harts', formerly Harts' Pharmacists, has closed down.
"It's sad. It's the end of an era," said Edward Conroy, who owned the business from 1970 until 2001.
For more than a century there was a pharmacy on Spring Street serving the community and Williams College students. Artifacts at the Williamstown Historical Museum attest to their existence.
Two large ledgers simply identified "Spring St. 1904-1908 contain page upon page of prescriptions.
Photos, medicine bottles and tins from Harts', starting from when it was founded by Walter Hart during the Great Depression, are also among the WHM's collection.
Philip Hart, who followed in his father's footsteps as a pharmacist, took over the business in 1945.
In March 1960, Hart hired Ed Conroy to be a second pharmacist in the store located at 40 Spring St. 
Conroy pitched in wherever needed.
"We had a soda fountain then, and I hand-packed containers with Wager Ice Cream produced in Troy," he recalled. "Cole Porter's chauffeur used to drive in every Friday to buy ice cream." 
As a pharmacist, Conroy was privy to customers' medical information, but he was the personification of discretion. "Ed's ethics are phenomenal," his wife, Anne, said. 
In 1970, Conroy bought the business from Philip Hart, but did not change the name.
"I would never do that," Conroy said. "Phil and I were friends for years, and it is a good name people know and respect." 
Conroy received phone calls at home from tourists and customers who needed his services, including three calls one Christmas, and off he would go to the store to meet the caller.
Williams College students turned to Conroy for advice when they were suffering flu-like symptoms and rashes. 
I doubt that such interaction is possible between customers and pharmacists in big box stores. And people who receive their prescription medicines from a mail-order supplier never even see the pharmacist.
In 2001, Conroy retired and sold the business to Steve Wiehl of Pittsfield, but he worked part time at the store for about nine years. Then he took off his pharmacist jacket for a final time and began full-fledged retirement. 
The sign above the store was changed to Harts' in 2010 after Wiehl decided to stop providing pharmaceutical services, but continued selling over the counter medicines, health and beauty products and miscellany. 
The void left by Harts' closing down was the focus of an article titled "Hart-less" in "The "Williams Record," Williams College independent student newspaper, which read in part: "Students now lack accessible options to buy basic necessities like toiletries and health supplies... The College should take responsibility for fixing the problem by making space in the new bookstore, in Paresky Center, the Thompson Health Center or elsewhere to sell basic toiletries and health items." 
In regard to the availability of health supplies on Spring Street, James Art, Williams College director of real estate and legal affairs, has said, "I expect that the new college bookstore, along with other merchants on Spring Street, will pick up some of the inventory formerly carried by Harts'." 
Karen Gosselin, owner of Spring Street Market, has already expanded the inventory of general merchandise to include personal hygiene products. Wines & Spirits has always carried over the counter pain relievers. "We don't have as much space as Spring Street Market has, but we're considering adding some stuff Harts' carried," the manager said recently. 
Emily Watts, executive director of Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, knows of no other stores on Spring Street that will offer items Harts' had carried. 
Now 40 Spring St. is undergoing renovations to bring it up-to-date and more appealing to potential renters.  
What type of business will occupy the space is a question yet to be answered.
Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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