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Neighborhood loses a mainstay

A Spokane landmark will close next month after nearly a century in business. The Altamont Pharmacy will merge its prescription drug operations with Safeway on the South Hill after 99 years at the corner of East 10th Avenue and South Perry Street.

Owner Art Tyrrell, 68, said he’d been thinking of slowing down for a while. He wasn’t searching for an opportunity, but one came along, he said.

“I can’t do this forever,” said Tyrrell, “even though it’s a lot of fun – most of the time.”

Tyrrell’s store has been robbed at gunpoint several times, and he’s seen an increase in prescription-drug-related crime in the 28 years he’s owned the pharmacy, which he said is the oldest in Spokane.

In the past year, the pharmacy has been robbed at least twice during business hours and burglarized overnight about a dozen times – five times in the past three months, Tyrrell said. The last burglary occurred a couple of weeks ago.

Tyrrell said he’s received an anonymous tip as to the burglar’s identity, but no arrests have been made.

The burglar took several bottles of the powerful painkiller OxyContin on several occasions but made off with only decoy bottles the last time, Tyrrell said.

“When he got home, he found a bottle full of rocks,” he said. “That does my heart good.”

Safeway’s technology, including more video cameras and security alarms than most independent drugstores like Tyrrell’s, helps prevent such crimes, said Bill McDermott, a Carmel, Calif.-based pharmacy consultant helping Tyrrell with the move.

The store is selling all merchandise at 20 percent off, with greeting cards 40 percent off. Only prescription drugs and customer files will be moved to Safeway, where Tyrrell will work as a pharmacist. His three employees are interviewing for jobs there.

The pharmacy is a mainstay in the South Perry Business District.

“The whole neighborhood’s going to miss it,” said pharmacy assistant Leia Carrick, who joined the staff about two years ago after years as a customer.

The pharmacy opened in 1910 in the Perry Street Cafe building across the street. It moved to 928 S. Perry St. in the 1950s, Tyrrell said. The store hasn’t changed much since.

Five aisles of merchandise – plastic toys, crutches, garden ornaments, first-aid supplies – line the store floor. While prescription deliveries aren’t advertised, exceptions are made. Until a 1-cent price increase a few months ago, the store offered candy for a penny a piece.

The north side of the building serves as the projection screen for the summertime Perry Street Theater.

“It gives you the country feeling,” said Tanya Huff, who started getting her prescriptions through the pharmacy after stopping in with her mother a couple of years ago. “It doesn’t make you feel like you live in the city.”

Tyrrell remembers a woman whose children grew up in the neighborhood and stopped at the store while home from college.

When they wrote their mother weeks later, they mentioned how nice it was to see the Altamont Pharmacy hadn’t changed. That was about 10 years ago.

Tyrrell said there are no immediate plans for the building, which he doesn’t own.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at