The store on the corner of 6th and J Streets will stay open for business for at least another year, and it is now called “Los Banos Fountain and Gifts,” with a new phone number (209.826.5836) and new hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
“We had an outpouring of community support after The Westside Express reported [on May 25] that the store would have to permanently close June 17,” said Duane “Pudge” Griffin, the business’ owner.
“The lunch counter was busier than ever in the days that followed, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Griffin said, “and many people told me how much they wanted to see the store stay open.”
It will no longer be the “Los Banos Drug Store,” and it won’t sell even over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics. “My agreement with Rite-Aid,” Griffin said, “is that we won’t sell anything that would compete with their store. But that doesn’t include the gift items that many of our customers appreciated.”
All the shelves that held drugs and cosmetics were emptied, but all the displays of gift items remained the same.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the continuation of Los Banos Fountain and Gifts was the willingness of the building’s owner, Taylor Wolfson and his family, to work with Griffin on an agreement that was feasible for both parties.
The lease that Griffin and Wolfson entered, for example, runs not for the standard two years, but for one. “I really appreciate that Taylor was open and receptive to ideas I proposed to him,” Griffin said. “I know he and his family wanted to keep the fountain open, and now it will continue.”
The fountain will keep offering customer favorites, including phosphates, floats and ice cream sodas as well as deviled egg and pimento cheese sandwiches, soups and salads.
“I think we have a win-win-win result here,” Griffin said, “benefiting customers, the Wolfson family, my employees and me.”
During the next few weeks the store will undergo changes and renovations. Gone will be the shelves that held items like aspirin and lipstick. New flooring will be installed, and tables and chairs will be added.
In addition, Griffin plans to include a specialty coffee bar with an extended variety of hot and cold beverages. He is also working with a person who will bake home-made pastries in the store’s kitchen.
Although Griffin will continue to be the owner of Los Banos Fountain and Gifts, he will turn the management of the business over to Dana Laguna and the management of the lunch counter to Terri Coelho, two of his longtime employees.
Griffin plans on using his experience as pharmacist to work for another pharmacy in town, with which he is continuing negotiations. “I’ll still check in each morning at the store,” he said, “and stay in close contact with Dana and Terri.”
Griffin expressed his appreciation for Rite-Aid, which purchased his inventory of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics, as well as his file of prescription customers. “If Rite-Aid hadn’t come forward with a fair offer,” Griffin said, “the business would have had to declare bankruptcy and none of this would be possible.”
Los Banos Drugs was in serious financial trouble, Griffin said, primarily because private insurance companies didn’t reimburse the business for prescriptions they had previously approved. “The drug store ended up with somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 in uncollected private insurance reimbursements. That was a killer.”
Los Banos Fountain and Gifts will continue to undergo change in June and July. “I continue to talk with my employees and customers,” Griffin said, “about the store name and design. We might call it the ‘Koffee Break’ [the words that have long been affixed to the wall behind the lunch counter].
“Almost all of the words on the walls, including ‘Gifts’ and ‘Cards,’ as well as the longtime features inside and outside the store, will remain the same,” Griffin said. “So many people remember this place coming here for years, they will appreciate so much of it unchanged.”
Looking beyond June 2023, when the lease is up, Griffin said the business will continue “if we get enough customers and generate the revenue needed for a positive bottom line. “The residents of Los Banos have shown me so much support in the last few weeks,” he added. “I can’t thank them enough.”