Turnage Is Town’s Oldest Family Run Business
UM Journalism Student
Walking through the doors of Turnage Drug Store is to step back to a slower, simpler time – a time when customer loyalty was built on strong personal ties, the same kind that have kept this landmark pharmacy successful for four generations.
“We need to take care of the people, because all the drug stores pretty much have the same medicine, but we offer service,” says Binnie Turnage, veteran pharmacist and one of a long line of Turnages who have filled prescriptions for the city’s residents.
In addition to great service, customers get a dose of southern hospitality and Christian fellowship–here, at the vintage ice cream bar, featuring its famous milk shakes, and in soft melody of wind chimes dangling from the ceiling.
The drug store is the oldest family-run business in Water Valley. Binnie Turnage, 75, graduated from the University of Mississippi Pharmacy School in 1962.
Turnage’s grandfather, Wade, opened Turnage Drug Store in 1905, and the family business has been serving Water Valley with pride since then. When he was a child during World War II, Binnie’s father, Watkins Turnage, worked for the Eli Lily Drug Company in Jackson and in Greenville. One day in 1944, when the family had moved to Memphis, Watkins Turnage got a call from his father’s doctor in Water Valley alerting him that Wade Turnage’s health was failing.
If the store was to survive, Binnie’s father would need to move back to Water Valley.
These days, the store partnered with the University of Mississippi, allowing pharmacy majors a field experience, the sense of a real pharmacy, Turnage explained.
Turnage tells students “to be the best pharmacist that you can be and the way we try to do things around here is to treat people like family. If you’re talking to someone with a sick child or with a sick husband or wife, you ask them a lot of questions and then ask yourself, if it was my child, or my husband or wife, what would I do?”
Longtime customer, Jim Allen, has been buying his pharmaceuticals from Turnage Drug Store since 1948. “I don’t have access to a CVS or Walmart and Turnage has always taken care of their customers,” says Allen. “I trust them.”
Walmart or CVS may sell their products for less, Allen explains, but Turnage’s kind-hearted reputation, friendly service, and dependability keep customers coming back.
“We’ve been blessed with a lot of loyal folks who keep coming back,” Turnage agreed.
Walmart and CVS, in some cases, may be able to sell their pharmaceutical products cheaper than Turnage Drug Store, but if you’re looking for a more personable shopping experience, then Turnage Drug Store is the place to be.
According to a recent pole on www.time.com, 10 Retailers With the Worst Customer Service, CVS was ranked number three and Walmart ranked number one, as having the worst customer service.
Turnage’s customers run the gamut, from informal gatherings of community members who gather to talk about books, to friends from First United Methodist Church of Water Valley. All of this is reflected in the store’s merchandise, which includes inspirational photographs featuring biblical verses.
“My purpose in life is to serve the Lord and serve the people,” says Turnage. “We may not be open 24/7, but if someone is having an emergency, they’ll get their medicine,” says Turnage.
Eighteen senior journalism students from Ole Miss completed a weekend reporting blitz in Water Valley as part of their class project.
Each student was assigned a person to interview and photograph during the project, which got underway on March 20 and continued on March 21 and 22. The students were working under the direction of Dr. Mark Dolan, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.
The people selected for interviews ranged from long-time Water Valley residents to newcomers and new business owners.