“Where Good Friends Meet”

773 W Michigan Ave: Ninety Years at “The Campus Corner”

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Life magazine promotion, ca. 1946

Whether by design, by location, or perhaps by pure chance, certain commercial structures are destined to become lifelong places where people like to congregate, regardless of the type of business within. From its origins as Oakland Pharmacy, a popular neighborhood pharmacy, soda fountain, market, and lunch counter, through more than two decades as a renowned music store called Boogie, to a trendy café, bar and performance venue known as The Strutt, the building at the corner of Academy Street and West Michigan Avenue has long stood as a community gathering place “Where Good Friends Meet.”

Howard F. Young, Architect

Designed by noted Kalamazoo architect Howard Fields Young, the striking English Tudor style building at the corner of Academy Street and West Michigan Avenue blends distinctive half-timbering with an ivy-covered brick exterior and steeply pitched roofline to give it a timeless, well established, warm and inviting appearance. Oakland Pharmacy was one of the few commercial structures designed by Howard Young, whose other work was primarily residential. Perhaps that’s a clue as to why this building evokes such a comfortable “homey” feeling that remains to this day.

Howard Young received national recognition for his architectural style, and he accomplished much in his tragically short career. His designs include a group of eight Kalamazoo College faculty homes along Monroe Street, in addition to distinctive residences at 2003 Oakland Drive, 1201 Short Road, 2705 Clovelly1805 Indiana, 1221 & 1225 Howard Street, and others. Young also designed several notable buildings in Marshall.

Oakland Pharmacy

The Oakland Pharmacy building was originally designed to house four separate businesses, with street addresses of 135, 131, 129, and 127 Oakland Drive. (These were later changed to 769, 767, 765 and 763 West Michigan Avenue, respectively.) A fifth entrance faced Academy Street. (742 Academy St.) In the end, the pharmacy, including the lunch counter and soda fountain, filled the main portion of the building (occupying the two southern-most sections), while a market occupied the third (center) and a barber shop the fourth (uppermost) section.

“At the Campus Corner”

Oakland Pharmacy was opened in May 1926 by proprietor Donald K. Strickland, with his partner and pharmacy manager Edward F. Crabb. Strickland, who also operated a drug store at 241 South Burdick Street, often went by the name “Don Stricknine” (a rather odd nickname for a druggist) and was clearly a silent partner, with most of Oakland Pharmacy’s day-to-day operations left in the hands of Ed Crabb.

Edward F. Crabb

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Edward F. Crabb, ca. 1946

An orphan at sixteen, Edward Crabb worked his way through Purdue University with the hope of entering the medical field, pharmaceutical sales, or becoming a drug store proprietor. With a Graduate in Pharmacy (Ph.G.) degree from Purdue, Crabb went to work as a pharmacist in Indiana before entering the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service during the First World War.

After the war, Crabb became a partner in a drug store in Clinton, Indiana, before moving to Kalamazoo with his family to manage Oakland Pharmacy. Crabb became associated with the research department of the Upjohn Company, and specialized in pharmaceutical supplies. He was once president of the Kalamazoo Retail Druggists Association, a member of the Michigan State Pharmaceutical Association executive committee, and of the National Association of Retail Druggists (now National Community Pharmacists Association). When Strickland retired in 1939, Crabb continued as a sole proprietor until his own retirement in 1961. Ed Crabb passed away in 1973.

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Oakland Pharmacy, ca. 1926

Formal Opening

The doors were opened in May 1926, but a formal grand opening was delayed until September to create a strong impact among returning students. Thursday evening, 30 September 1926 was set aside to welcome the townspeople to the new establishment. Friday evening was for Kalamazoo College students and faculty, and Saturday evening was for Western State Normal School (WMU) students and faculty.

Hot Coffee.... 5¢

In addition to the pharmacy, there was a popular lunch counter where students and townfolk alike could order up a ham, peanut butter, corned beef, or American cheese sandwich for a dime. A cup of coffee was a nickel, and a deluxe tomato lettuce sandwich would set you back a quarter. According to Crabb, “It grew and prospered as the result of only one thing...” He then wiped his hand across his forehead to imply lots of hard work.

Rood’s Market & Smitty’s Barber Shop

The larger storefront that faces Michigan Avenue (129 Oakland Drive) originally housed Rood’s Meat Market, operated by Frank E. Rood and his son, Frank, Jr. By 1939, the market space was home to the Stannard Cycle Shop (by then the address was 765 West Michigan Avenue, as it is today). By 1945, an antique store occupied the space, and later a women’s clothing store.

The smaller storefront in the far corner (127 Oakland Drive) (far left in the photo above) was originally a barber shop, owned by Hampton Shirley. By 1929, it was taken over by Clarence M. L. Smith (friends called him “Slim”) and became Smitty’s Barber Shop (by then 763 West Michigan Avenue). Smitty ran his shop until the early 1970s before retiring. The two northern sections were eventually merged into a single space as the original location of Boogie Records.

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 February 1935

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Oakland Pharmacy, 26 February 1935

“Fire!”

During lunchtime on a cold and windy Tuesday, 26 February 1935, twenty-five customers—mostly students—were eating lunch and otherwise being tended to by the pharmacy’s eight employees, when disaster struck. Ed Crabb sent one of his employees to the basement to tend to the furnace. Ten minutes later, smoke could be seen pouring from the registers upstairs, and the employee returned shouting, “Fire!” “By the time every diner and customer was out and all employees were clear and accounted for,” stated Crabb, “the fire had filled the room” (Gazette). Everyone made it out safely, but damage to the building was extensive, estimated at $40,000 (more than $600,000 today). The building was soon repaired, however, and Oakland Pharmacy was again open for business by mid-May.

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Oakland Pharmacy on fire, 26 February 1935

“Modern Store Rises from the Ashes”

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Interior views, ca. 1946

On Saturday, 18 May 1935, the newly renovated Oakland Pharmacy celebrated its formal grand re-opening. Strickland, Crabb, and the eight member staff welcomed customers back with a newly rearranged interior and added stock. In the spirit of “keeping it local,” Kalamazoo labor was employed for all of the repair work and Kalamazoo products were featured wherever possible.

“Finish of the store is now in a silver grey tone, quarter-sawed oak being used for all woodwork. The shelves and wall displays have been so arranged as to give a maximum amount of light and to permit patrons at tables to have a view of the streets.”

“On the right of the entrance on the Academy Street side is the candy counter and phone booths, with the soft drink and ice cream fountain extending almost to the east wall.”

“The center of the big room is marked by an A-type toilet goods case, surrounded by the tables used in serving lunches and soft drinks. Back of the tables, along the east wall, are placed the office and the kitchen.”

“At the left of the main entrance is the magazine rack and the circulating library. Here the patrons will find a small table, cozily isolated, where books may be looked over and chosen without interruption. Tobaccos and the wrapping counter are next on the Oakland Drive side, with package and rubber goods and proprietary medicines on the side and rear of the store. The prescription counter is on the north side, of glass and semi-enclosed. Toilet goods and stationery will also be found in this section of the store.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 May 1935

“Life at the Pharm”

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Advertisement, Brown and Gold, 1956
Western Michigan University

 

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Ed Crabb with his student “assistants”

By the late 1930s, the Great Depression had passed and Oakland Pharmacy, affectionately nicknamed “The Pharm,” was back in full swing. Students from “K” College and Western State Teachers College converged for lunchtime gatherings and soda fountain treats. Ed Crabb created special “Pharm Phriends” certificates for his loyal customers, awarding them an honorary degree in “Pharmology” once the necessary “courses” had been completed. These were dutifully signed by Mr. Crabb himself, and certified by the president, “I. Sippa Coke,” and the secretary, “Gimme A. Candibar.” In April 1939, Donald Strickland retired and Ed Crabb became sole proprietor.

In 1946, the interior of the building was again remodeled and modernized. Life magazine selected the store for a promotional campaign featuring nationally advertised products. Newspaper advertisements of the time highlighted many of the store’s products and services; from cosmetics to prescriptions, magazines, fountain pens, vitamins, and last minute gifts. The lunch counter had been discontinued by this time, although the soda fountain service would remain a popular feature until 1959.

John W. Spicer

In 1961, Ed Crabb retired and sold his pharmacy business and building to John W. Spicer, a Belding native and Ferris State College graduate, who continued to operate Oakland Pharmacy for another sixteen years. After a half-century of operation, Oakland Pharmacy was finally closed in February 1977.

“In its heyday, no one around could touch it for service or beauty.”

—John Spicer, Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 February 1977

Boogie Records: 1972-1995

In 1972, a group of local entrepreneurs opened the consummate hippie record store in the small northern (market) portion of the Oakland Pharmacy building. With its close proximity to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College, plus a vibrant post-sixties local counterculture, Boogie Records soon became an iconic music marketplace.

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A busy Saturday afternoon at Boogie Records, October 1978.
Photo: Keith Howard

By 1976, “Boogie” had absorbed the barber shop space and expanded its product line to include clothing and waterbeds. When John Spicer closed the Oakland Pharmacy in 1977, members of the Boogie Family purchased the building and renovated the larger portion to sell music, waterbeds, clothing, posters, accessories, you name it—truly a counterculture general store. The old space next door was later repurposed as a separate classical music oasis called “Bach to Bach.”

By the end of the decade, Boogie had spawned a chain of retail music outlets, a chain of waterbed stores, a record company, an advertising agency, a deli, a wholesale music distributor, and quite predictably, a host of imitators.

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Business card, ca. 1980s
Author’s collection

Boogie continued to grow and thrive, and was listed during the mid-1980s among the top independent music stores in the country by Trouser Press Magazine, one of the leading music publications of its day.

The locals were tremendously supportive; many shopped weekly, some even daily. In an online forum, one former patron freely admits, “I went to WMU from ‘75 through ‘78 and practically lived at Boogie Records! Bought a ton of vinyl there... great memories.”

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Original Boogie Records sign
Courtesy, Mark McNee

And several top name performers made public appearances at the store while passing through the area—Billy Cobham’s CBS All-Stars, Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, The Romantics, The Isley Brothers, The Whispers, Asleep at the Wheel, New Edition and Run DMC, to name a few. Still others happend by, not as celebrities but as patrons, who enjoyed thumbing through the bins in search of those elusive vinyl rarities. Rick Wakeman wandered in while having his stage equipment serviced at Pro Co Sound, Robert Plant acquired an armful of blues records one Sunday afternoon, Joel Bernstein spent an hour or so browsing before a Neil Young concert, and blues legend Willie Dixon stopped by one day just to say “hello.” Jason Newsted reportedly became so fond of the building that he once considered buying it, and customers from abroad would often remark, “I’ve heard about this place.”

After a series of ownership changes and the beginning of tough times for independent record retailers, Boogie finally succumbed to changing times and closed its doors in 1995.

The Strutt: 2007-2012

Following a decade of assorted lounges, cafés and coffee shops, the old Oakland Pharmacy building again found a certain degree of success with The Strutt, a popular café, bar, coffee company, brewery, recording studio, record company, and performance venue, which was opened in 2007. The Strutt ceased operation in 2012, and “the campus corner” now awaits its next chapter as the place “Where Good Friends Meet.”

Though perhaps a world away from the days when kids “in bobby socks and saddle shoes dropped by before and between classes, at noon and after school,” students and locals still like to gather “at the Campus Corner,” just as folks have done in that building for nearly ninety years, to spend some time and perhaps share a locally crafted refreshment. As a press quote once said, “Every college town should be so lucky.”

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Crowd at the Strutt during a Boogie Records Revival Night, 2009
Photo by Brittany Bauman, courtesy of The Strutt, used by permission 

Sources

Articles

“Oakland Pharmacy Formally to Open”

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 September 1926

“Oakland Pharmacy Reopens Saturday”

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 May 1935

“Why I Need A Silent Partner”

  • Crabb, Edward F.
  • The Overflow (an Upjohn Company publication), April 1953

“‘Pharm’ Being Sold”

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 February 1977

Local History Room Files

History Room Subject File: Buildings - Kalamazoo - Michigan, W., 773.

History Room Subject File: Oakland Pharmacy.