WARE SHOALS — Judy Henderson remembers when the town had four pharmacies. But as it declined, so too did the number of places where its residents could go to fill a prescription. Only one remains: the former West End Pharmacy at 734 Greenwood Ave. N.

Fred’s, a Georgia-based chain of discount stores and pharmacies, purchased West End in October 2009 from Henderson’s father, Boyce Lancaster, who had run it for 49 years, she said.

The store Fred’s acquired was more than a pharmacy. In 1974, a diner-style counter was installed in the back. It became a communal meeting place, where, as Mayor Bruce Holland affectionately said, townsfolk would gather every morning to solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee and a hot biscuit.

They still do. But on Friday the diner will serve its last meal. The day after, the pharmacy will fill its last prescription. And on the 19th, the Fred’s on Greenwood Avenue North will close its doors for the last time, the latest in a succession of closures announced in the wake of a companywide restructuring. For the first time in at least a half-century, Ware Shoals won’t have a pharmacy.

Fred’s fountain

Amanda Edwards knows her customers. Every morning by 8:55, she has already laid out their tables with mugs and, for those who use them, spoons and packets of sweetener.

“And when the doors open and I see who is over there, I usually try to get them their coffee before they get to their seat,” Edwards said.

Cecil Boggs leaves his Clemson mug behind the counter. Byron “Preacher-Man” Wood leaves his Sourwood honey from Asheville, North Carolina. No use carrying those things back and forth every morning.

A sign says “There are NO Assigned seats!!!” It’s an inside joke. Everyone sits at the same seat every morning, and one, Larry Taylor, is known to stand beside “his” seat should he arrive to find it occupied by someone else until that person moves.

Randy McLean said he’s been coming to Fred’s most mornings since he retired five years ago.

“It’s a real shock,” he said of the store’s closing. “It’s a five-year habit I’m going to have to break.”

Although McLean only started coming regularly fairly recently, he remembers when the counter was first installed. It made him proud, he said. It was nice, the kind of counter you would see in a big city diner.

Over a breakfast of sausage biscuit and a buttered biscuit smothered in his Appalachian honey, Wood, who pastors at Ware Shoals’ Holiday Church, said he had lived all over the country: Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Minnesota, Florida.

“I’ve been a lot of places. But I always got homesick,” the Ware Shoals native said. “I’d hear them songs about home and the tears would roll down my cheek. And I’m back here to stay.”

Why?

“Just the good old town, good old people and kinfolk,” he said.

Fred’s Pharmacy

Henderson grew up in West End, and works there to this day. It’s the only job she’s ever had.

“When I turned 14, daddy started paying us,” Henderson said. “But I always did stuff here growing up.”

“It’s got in Ware Shoals that you’ve got to go to Greenwood or Honea Path to get anything,” Marion Butler, another regular, said. “It wouldn’t be so bad if they sold it and someone took over. But to leave here without any drug store — that’s bad.”

“If it is indeed the last pharmacy in Ware Shoals, that sounds problematic,” said Clay Sprouse, the director of pharmacy technology at Piedmont Technical College. “I have a lot of concern for geriatric patients who depended on having a pharmacy in their backyard for so long.”

Henderson said the prescriptions would be sent to the CVS in Honea Path, about 10 miles away. But she’s worried about some of the pharmacy’s older clients, many of whom walk to Fred’s and might have trouble finding someone to drive them to Honea Path.

For patients who would prefer another pharmacy, Sprouse said the standard procedure is to contact the pharmacy they would prefer and ask it to handle the transfer. Those who do so should tell the pharmacy which medication they use along with their prescriptions’ refill number, to expedite the transfer process.

Holland said the departure is a part of the steady decline experienced by small mill towns across South Carolina.

“We are typical, unfortunately, of way too many small communities,” he said.

None of the regulars, most of whom are retirees, know where they’ll go once Fred’s closes. Some hope a new owner will come in and keep the diner and pharmacy, at least, going.

“I’m not expecting a miracle,” McLean said, “but I would welcome something to fill the void.”

Contact staff writer Aleks Gilbert at 864-943-5644.