Beyond Tourism: Florida's Yesteryear

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Before Walmart there was Webb’s City Drug Store April 5, 2010

During the Florida Land Boom of the 1920’s a man in his twenties, by the name of James Earl “Doc” Webb, moved to St. Petersburg and opened a drug store in 1925. It would become huge before the store closed in 1979. The drugstore would cover 7-10 city blocks.

According to Holly Atkins, James got the nickname Doc because he made his own drugs such as Sorbo-Rub, Indian Wahoo Bitters and Doc Webb’s 608. This was only the beginning. His store eventually had 77 different departments including prescription department, surgical supplies, cosmetics and toiletries, Furniture City (covering seven floors!), a florist, a dry cleaning plant, a service station and automobile association, a bank service, a dance studio, an ice cream plant, a coffee roasting plant and, of course, Doc’s Original Drugstore.

When the land boom ended in Florida, a forerunner to the Great Depression, that didn’t stop James. He kept his store open and had deep discounts to keep his customers. He even held circuses and small fairs in his parking lot. He dropped some of his prices so low that Bristol-Meyers took James to court for selling their toothpaste below retail price. It went all the way to the  Florida Supreme Court where it was ruled in James favor. A few years later some distilleries also took him to court for the same reason. The court again ruled in his favor.

The drug store survives the Great Depression but according to Florida’s Lost Tourist Attractions it just wasn’t enough. St. Petersburg was losing it’s status as Florida’s tourist capital and began a long slow spiral downward. In 1974 James sold all his shares in the drugstore and retired. The company went bankrupt in 1979. What did Webb’s City Drug Store leave us with? They invented the 10 items or less speedy check out lane. I’m sure there were plenty of people with a cartload of items in the speedy checkout though.

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14 Responses to “Before Walmart there was Webb’s City Drug Store”

  1. Very nice history lesson. I’ll be thinking of Webb next time I go through the 10 items line at Publix.

  2. anneskal Says:

    Thanks for this post! I love reading about past businesses and how they made a go of it.

  3. Yekimi Says:

    Ahh, yes! Good old Webb City. Growing up in St. Pete/Pinellas Park I can remember my mother taking me there when I was little. I remember being fascinated by the mermaids! One time when I was about 9 years old I got separated from my mother [I prefer to think that she was the one that got lost] and eventually wandered back to where she had parked the car and climbed in and fell asleep waiting for her to come back. After an hour or so she came back to the car and I caught you-know-what. Thinking I had been jidnapped she had called the cops and they had been scouring the store from top to bottom looking for me. Eventually one of them wondered if I could have gone back to the car so she checked and their I was.

    • Lyra Says:

      They had mermaids! What did the store not have?

      Thinking back on times when I got separated my parents and working in retail now. I think a lot of children look at it as my mommy/daddy is lost and not us.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I love reading them.

  4. sandra Says:

    I used to work there back in the sixties.. The Electric shaver dept, drug store, cosmetics,cigarette dept , telephone operator, fur dept and oh yes the candy dept. I met my husband there worked together and have been married 42 years .. It was the place to see!!..

  5. I CAN REMEMBER MY GREAT AUNT TAKING MY FAMILY TO SEE THE MOST MODERN AND UNUSUAL STORE IN ALL OF AMERICA. WE WERE VISITING FROM MICHIGAN AND I WAS 14 YRS OLD. I STILL HAVE A VISIBLE MEMORY OF THAT VISIT TO WEBBS. FEELS GREAT.

  6. Carol H Says:

    Great read was remembering the times we visited the “Drugstore” always fascinated by the “mermaids” and the under the sea. Oh, what a simpler time the late 1950’s early 60s were. Kids today don’t know the joy of make believe. Wish there were some pictures.

  7. lenore b. Says:

    i remember at webbs city a man that was called the mechanical man, anyone making him laugh ar even slightly smile would receive a hundred dollar bill it was i think,so for hours everyday the crowd would gather to watch him and try to make him smile just a little bit,
    it never happened, he kept on just being the mechanical man, i remember the guards that sat up way high above the parking lot in kind of a crows nest ,they would call out over the microphone of where they saw an empty parking space, very unique, i also remember that there was a restaurant with a lot of colored lights and waitors dressed up, it was actually a fabulous cafeteria , all fancy and showy in so many colored lights,i remember buying a grey skirt one time in the clothes department, very fun to attend the live mermaid show, we always bought some really nice handpacked frozen orange segments there and felt like we had been to the state fair , it was so full of joy and fun and life there, it was only a quarter to ride the bus from our home on eighth avenue north all the way down to webbs city, we were never bored
    st. pete was full of life and full of joy i moved to a few blocks away from webbs city across from the phone company, those were so the days so the days so the days so the days i miss them terribly much today,

  8. […] via Before Walmart there was Webb’s City Drug Store | Beyond Tourism: Florida’s Yesteryear. […]

  9. Jim Bowman Says:

    Does anyone have a photo of Doc Webb’s original drug store on the NE corner of 9th St. and 2nd Ave. South?

  10. Lee Says:

    Looking for the recipe used for Webb’s City’s cafeteria’s bread pudding.


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