Special Reports

Pharmacy owners worked their way to the top

t's not four generations of the same family that have owned Fairhaven Pharmacy, which opened in Whatcom County in 1889, it's four generations of delivery boys who have owned the store over the past century.

Fred Offerman. the first owner of Fairhaven Pharmacy, hired a young George Finnegan to work as the pharmacy's delivery boy in the 1890s. Finnegan left for the University of Washington; when he came home he had his degree and a business partner, Elmer Morrison. The two bought the business from Offerman and ran it together until Morrison left after contracting tuberculosis.

In 1912, Finnegan hired a new delivery boy, Rene LaCasse. They worked side by side for 27 years. Customers who needed their prescription filled grew accustomed to seeing LaCasse standing on their doorstep, order in hand.

Just before the Depression, Finnegan built a new store and moved the pharmacy to its current location on 12th Street in Fairhaven. His timing couldn't have been worse - the market crashed, customers quit paying bills, people just stopped shopping.

Luckily for Finnegan, he had good friends in high places. Charlie Larrabee, son of Fairhaven philanthropist C.X. Larrabee, walked into the pharmacy one day and said, "Let me buy the building from you, Finnegan, and I'll charge you a reasonable rent to allow you to stay open." Larrabee's generosity enabled Finnegan to survive the Depression.

Finnegan died in 1939, leaving LaCasse 5 percent of the business. LaCasse bought the rest.

In 1941, a 14-year-old boy ambled through the front door of the pharmacy and asked for a job. His name was Gordon Tweit and he became the new Fairhaven Pharmacy delivery boy.

Sometime in the next year LaCasse had a surprise visit from Charlie Larrabee. Larrabee said, "Let me sell you back the portion of the building that has the pharmacy in it, plus 10 inches of the common wall."

He sold it to Rene for $3,500. That extra 10 inches was insurance against developers in other parts of the building tearing into the shared wall.

This time, owner and delivery boy worked together for 21 years before the torch was passed. LaCasse retired in 1962 and sold the pharmacy to Tweit.

During the 1960s, Tweit hired a delivery boy named Robin Johansen. Johansen worked for Tweit 28 years before the traditional exchange from owner to employee took place.

"In 1991 I sold it to Robin Johansen 50 years after I'd come to work as a delivery boy," Tweit said with a chuckle.

Is there another delivery boy waiting in the wings?

"No, I had to give up delivery boys because they were being threatened at school to bring pain pills and other drugs," Tweit said. "I had to get rid of them so nobody would get hurt.

"It's a sad commentary."