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San Pedro Pharmacy Retains Look of the Past
Article first published in Vol. 12, 1994.
By Rosa Moreno
Have you every used dried rose petals as a remedy for stomach trouble or a parche Guadalupano (porous capsicum plaster) to relieve back pain? Drugstores of yesteryear commonly provided these and other "folk" remedies for their customers. In addition, drugstores also served as soda shops with fountain treats such as black cows (root beer floats) and ice cream sodas, a favorite of young and old. Medications may have changed, but some drugstores have not.
Libby Dominguez prepares milk shake at San Pedro Pharmacy. Photo by Leigh Smith
San Pedro Pharmacy, located at 3712 Alameda since 1918, still dispenses service, medicine and ice cream sodas. There is a little of everything on the selves, and it is a great place for browsing. It is a family-owned and run business, still serving El Paso in the good old-fashioned way.
In 1909, when William Howard Taft was president of the United States and Admiral Peary was on his historical trip to the North Pole, a 14-year-old from Durango, México, where he was born, to begin a new life in El Paso. The boy's name was Cecilio A. Arredondo.
After Arredondo arrived in El Paso, his first thoughts were to learn the ways and language of his newly adopted country. His father died when he was fifteen, leaving his as head of the family. He enrolled in the old International Business College in El Paso, and at sixteen, took his first job working at the pharmacy in South El Paso. "It was the opportunity and dream I had been waiting for," he recalls. Within four years he was managing the pharmacy, working 72 hours a week at a salary of $7 a week.
During those years, he nurtured a burning ambition to become a full-fledged botanico, Spanish for pharmacist. He eventually contacted Pedro De Lille Borja, a noted pharmacist from Chihuahua who had to move to El Paso. Professor Borja prepared Arredondo so thoroughly in pharmacology and pharmacognosy (the science dealing with the sources, traits, uses and doses of drugs) that the young man could readily repeat the botanical origins and nomenclature of various herbs and drugs. He passed the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy exam on May 20, 1918.
The year 1918 was a memorable one for Arredondo. He was a newly registered pharmacist, he married the former Concepcion Trejo and he opened his first drugstore at 3712 Alameda. On the ground of the lot where he built his pharmacy, he found a picture of Saint Peter and decided to name the business after the saint; thus San Pedro pharmacy was established. He used the saint's symbol- the key to heaven's gate- as the identifying sign on the front door.
Throughout the years he established seven pharmacies, two of which are still operating today. The Arredondos had ten children and founded what became a pharmaceutical dynasty. To date there have been 32 pharmacists in the family.
In 1971, at the age of 76, Arredondo received the "Outstanding Pharmacy Family of the Year" award. It was presented to Cecilio Arredondo by Senator Hubert Humphrey. This award was co-sponsored by the National Association of Retail Druggists and the Schering Corporation from nominations received from over 40,000 retail drugstores throughout the country.
Moreover, he was recognized by the Texas Board of Pharmacy when he passed the half-century mark in business. He was honored for his important contributions to the progress of pharmaceutics and for his humanitarian deeds.
Hector Arredondo, son of Cecilio and Concepcion Arredondo, is the owner of San Pedro Pharmacy today. He graduated valedictorian from Cathedral High School, attended Texas Western College and received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy in 1949. In 1964, he was honored as Texas Pharmacist of the year.
The younger Arredondo has received a plaque from "La Communidad es la Fuerza" Trinity Coalition in recognition and appreciation his many years of service to the Piedras /Alameda community. At the age of 67, Hector Arredondo says, "Since 1955, I have not had a day off…because I don't get sick."
San Pedro Pharmacy is devoid of modern. Oblivious to the changing technology around him, Arredondo has successfully maintained efficient operations without the use of computers. His most valuable asset is his 1935 Smith Corona. Like his father, he keeps records of his customers in a card catalog file and stores a copy of every filled prescription in old cigar boxes.
Arredondo's father used to roll his own pills and prepare many of his own remedies. Hector Arredondo continues to mix special prescriptions such as dermatologist's formulas, although most medicines come to pharmacists already prepared by manufacturers. For those customers financially unable to pay for their prescriptions, Arredondo sets up a "charge" account, thus allowing the customers to receive their necessary medication regardless of their financial situation.
Another bow to the past is the soda fountain. In the 1950s such fountains used to be a vital part of any drugstore operation. San Pedro pharmacy has one of the few remaining original operating drugstore soda fountains in El Paso. The soda fountain is on one wall. The stainless steel and Formica covered counter gleams, along with the revolving vinyl covered bar stools which provide a place to sit and relax.
The pharmacy serves delicious ice cream sundaes, floats, banana splits and malts prepared from old-fashioned ice cream. Arredondo still makes his own flavored fountain syrups using concentrated mixes and his own simple syrup made from sugar and water. A soft drink and ice cream cone used to cost a nickel each. Today's prices are substantially higher, but a customer is buying a taste of history along with the soda.
Octavio Castañeda is Cecilio Arredondo's only grandson who is a registered pharmacist. Eighteen months ago, he established Trawood Pharmacy in east El Paso. His pharmacy is modern, efficient and shining. It doesn't have a soda fountain, but Castañeda continues the friendly service his family is known for.
The Arredondo family has served the El Paso community for many years through its pharmacies. In addition, the family has kept history alive in its own way by maintaining the soda fountain and other relics of the past in the pharmacy. Whether to fill a prescription or to indulge in a strawberry sundae, it's worth a visit to the San Pedro Pharmacy to experience the service of the 1950s.