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Community set to rally for future of Nichols Hills Drugstore

The fate of another Nichols Hills landmark is in doubt as Chesapeake Energy continues with a master plan for development around its campus.
BY STEVE LACKMEYER Published: October 21, 2011

Change has been fairly constant the past few years at NW 63 and Western Avenue, but the latest jolts to the neighborhood are upsetting some as they see long-beloved landmarks being closed as Chesapeake Energy Corp. continues to implement its master plan.

Customers already were mourning the loss of Crescent Market, which was a staple at Nichols Hills Plaza for 48 years. It is closing on Oct. 29 as Chesapeake prepares to tear down the building and replace it with a new market.

Now customers are preparing to rally Saturday to let the community know they're not happy with yet another loss — that of the neighboring Nichols Hills Drug store and its old-fashioned lunch counter.

J. Black, owner of Nichols Hills Drug, 6411 Avondale Drive, has not responded to requests for interviews, but on his Facebook page he confirmed the store may be closing, but he might be able to reopen the only pharmacy in a temporary location.

In a previous interview, Robert Pemberton — owner of Crescent Market — said he was unsure how the lunch counter could stay open because he has long supplied the eatery daily with fresh meat and produce.

Longtime area resident Bill Gumerson was among those mourning the end of the lunch counter, noting it was his father, an architect, who designed the shopping center more than a half-century ago.

“I was raised at this counter, my kids were raised at this counter, and my grandkids are being raised at this counter, the oldest of which is 12,” Gumerson said. “It's been a big part of my life, my family's life, so it's very important. It's hard to see it change as it's about to change.”

Customers now are wondering whether the old-fashioned toy aisle, the lunch counter that served hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, the comic rack and other old-time favorites may soon be gone forever.

While landmarks like Crescent Market and Nichols Hills Drug have remained essentially the same over the past half-century, the immediate vicinity has undergone a tremendous transformation, much of it driven by Chesapeake Energy.

The company has been praised for creating nearby Classen Curve, which attracted long-desired retailers such as Whole Foods and Anthropologie. Upscale eateries and gift shops have replaced empty fields and aging office buildings. The company has spent millions building up its own campus at the southeast corner of NW 63 and Western.

Change happens, Gumerson acknowledged, but “a lot of us are uncomfortable with this change.”

The change at Nichols Hills Plaza was concerning enough to another longtime customer, Reid Calhoon, that he set up a “Save the Drugstore” Facebook page that had 596 followers as of Thursday. Another Facebook page, meanwhile, is calling for a rally that is set for noon Saturday to support the drugstore.

“Most of those that I have spoken with were upset that Crescent Market was closing but understood that, with the addition of Whole Foods, Crescent Market, which had been losing money for years, would not be able to compete,” Calhoon said. “The drugstore, however, has been a thriving business for many years and has provided services (pharmacy and soda fountain related) that much of the community of Nichols Hills has and will continue to depend on.”

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