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VOL. 124 | NO. 130 | Monday, July 6, 2009

Maggie’s Pharm: Smelling Sweet and Staying Put

By Tom Wilemon

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SERVICE WITH A SMILE: Anna Gilbert and Sue Jordan sell customers items priced from 30 cents to $75 at Maggies Pharm, a business that specializes in herbs, soaps, candles and other gift items. -- PHOTOS BY TOM WILEMON

Customers lift their noses in curiosity when they walk into Maggie’s Pharm for the first time.

“You want to know what the smell is, don’t you?” asked Sue Jordan, the manager. “It’s everything.”

The soaps, the candles and the essential oils combine to create an exotic scent, but the individual flavorings are the home-grown sort. For 30 years, Maggie’s Pharm has sold farm-fresh herbs, hand-crafted candles and soaps and other items in Overton Square.

Although several of the store’s neighbors have moved to other locations, Maggie’s Farm is staying put. The store leases from a different property owner than Fisher Capital, the Colorado-based entity that owns most of Overton Square.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Jordan said. “We’ve had a lot of people come in and think that we were closed. I don’t know where the rumor got started. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

There to stay

Owner: Elizabeth “Beaver” O’cain
Location: 13 Florence St.
Employees: 3 to 4
Web site:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday to Friday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

On a Tuesday afternoon, business was brisk with three customers buying items within 10 minutes. It’s the kind of place where a consumer can make a guilt-free purchase in tough economic times. Items range from 30 cents for a vitamin packet to $75 for a decorative piece.

“You can buy gifts for somebody for under $10 or $15,” Jordan said. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘I want to spend so and so.’ We pick out a little gift and wrap it up for them.”

The business also offers customized gift baskets and gift bags. It has a folksy-retro feel with items such as lampshades inspired by old postcards and folk-art creations.

Anna Gilbert, 17, looked up at a saw-carved wall hanging with a baby’s picture and admitted that it was her. Her mother, Elizabeth “Beaver” O’Cain, owns the shop. She grew up in the store.

Gilbert last week set up a Facebook profile and a Twitter account for the store.

“We have a lot of people who come in here who are repeat customers, who have been coming here since they were little kids that their mother brought in,” Jordan said. “Then as they get older, they bring their kids in. Anna, who is 17, her friends at that age group love it.”

Fixture through time

The store is keeping its sense of place and its history as it embraces a new generation. Tucked in a small hall is a montage of old photographs. They were taken from the refrigerator of an employee named Vicki Rea, who died about 15 years ago.

An old art deco dresser is used to display gift items. Jordan, who has worked at the store since 1993, said the dresser has been there for as long as she can remember. The shelves are lined with gallon jars filled with herbs, and alphabetized. A few of the herbs on the S-shelf were sandalwood, saraspirilla, sassafras and St. John’s Wort.

The store sells blended teas and stocks McCarter Coffee, which is shipped from Millington.

“We try to support people who are locally doing their thing,” Jordan said. “We love their coffee and so do our customers.”

Gilbert plans to continue in the family business.

“I’ll be in college in a year,” she said. “Maybe international business will be my major. My mom goes to Mexico. Why not put a Maggie’s Pharm in Cozumel? But we’re not leaving here.”

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