The oldest locally-owned business in Valencia County — Buckland Pharmacy in Belen — is closing its doors this week.

When Richard Brower, the owner and pharmacist, announced his decision to retire last month and to close Bucklands, many were shocked at the news and saddened the 118-year-old business would be no longer.

News-Bulletin file photo

Richard Brower, who purchased and has been operating Buckland Pharmacy in 1979, is retiring and closing the business.

“This literally made me choke up! The end of an era!” Bernadette Baca-Torres wrote. “Breaks my heart! Belen won’t be the same without you!”

“Oh no! Can’t or don’t want to believe what I just read,” said Yvonne Stewart. “You’ve always been so good to us. Things are going to be way different. Thank you for your years of service to this community.”

Community is what has kept Buckland Pharmacy open for so long, and it’s why Brower is so proud of what it has become.

“Bucklands is about community. It has thrived because of community service,” Brower said. “The people who worked at Buckland Pharmacy (whether it be doing internship from UNM or after school work or long term) over the years have been from the community and taken pride in providing the best service they could.

“Bucklands is about community because when patients or customers came in, they knew the staff,” he said. “The staff at Bucklands has not had a high turnover over the years. People at Bucklands stayed and worked long term.”

Janet Garcia has worked at Bucklands as a bookkeeper and a pharmacy tech since 1997. She says they’ve all grown as a family, and that is all because of Brower and his wife, Evelyn.

“We’ve worked with each other for so long,” Garcia said. “Richard and Evelyn have always been really good to us. If I had an emergency at home or my kids were sick, they wouldn’t think twice about it and let me go.”

Garcia said Brower was not only good to his employees, but went above and beyond for this customers.

“He has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen,” Garcia said of Brower. “I’ve seen people come in and couldn’t afford their medicine. Richard would tell them to pay him when they could.”

She knew Brower had wanted to retire, but when she heard the news of the closure, she was sad — and still is.

“We kind of expected it, but we were still shocked,” she said. “I’m just really happy for them to be able to go onto their next adventure.

“I’ve enjoyed working here. It’s been a part of my life for so long,” Garcia added. “I’m going to miss the people — they are my family. We have a lot of memories — good memories.”

Submitted photo

The black and white photo shows the original Buckland Bros. Drug Store, circa 1940, and the Commercial Club behind it. The old Central Elementary school is north of the Commercial Club building where Lowe’s Market is now.

News-Bulletin file photo

Buckland Pharmacy, on the northwest corner of Dalies Avenue and N. 6th Street, has closed after 118 years in business.

Pharmacist technician Elizabeth Chavez has worked at Buckland Pharmacy for 24 1/2 years — since she was 16 years old. Her late mother, Loretta Silva, also worked at Bucklands for 45 years before her death five years ago.

“I just grew up here,” Chavez said. “I got to know the customers. Everyone is like family. It’s a small town so we know everybody.”

Chavez said Brower has been very generous, someone with a big heart and always cared about the employees and customers.

“I’ve been able to work with people who have become family,” Chavez said of why she’s stayed at Bucklands for so long. “Belen isn’t going to be the same.”

Dolores Chavez has been a part-time clerk at Bucklands for 20 1/2 years, and says it’s been a home away from home.

“Bucklands have been known for their kindness to customers,” Dolores Chavez said. “Customers come first, and it’s a good atmosphere.”

She says she will always be grateful for Richard and Evelyn Brower for not only their leadership but for their friendship as well.

“They’re the best employers anyone could ever have. They’re kind and giving — they’re just the best people,” she said.

“He’s a legend,” she says of Brower. “He is a good pharmacist, a good people person. He was a good boss. You can’t ask for anything more.”

LuAnn Baca, a part-time cashier at Bucklands for 36 years, has a lot of memories of the store, saying she wasn’t surprised when she heard it was going to close.

“It’s time for the boss to go fishing,” Baca said with a chuckle. “I figured it would happen, but I was still sad because I’ll miss our customers. We have wonderful customers.”

The reason she and other longtime employees have stuck around for so long is because the Browers have been “so good to us.”

Baca will always cherish the memories made at Bucklands, including the friendships she’s made.

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

The longtime employees at Buckland Pharmacy say their boss and friend, Richard Brower has always treated them like family.

Rhonda Shofner, who has been a pharmacist at Bucklands for 21 years, always enjoyed her time at the local business.

“Once I came in, I could immediately feel that it was family-friendly, customer-service oriented,” she said of Bucklands. “It had the old-time drug store feeling. I thought to myself, ‘It’s perfect.’”

Shofner said Brower and the customers were always so great to her.

“The customers have been so amazing,” she said. “Some of them have been coming in since their grandmother came in. We know our customers by name, so we have given them personal and friendly customer service to get their needs taken care of.

“I heard a story the other day from a woman who must have been probably in her 80s,” Shofner said. “She said her mom would come in as a little girl with her mom. Back in the day, they would come after catechism for ice cream in a horse and buggy.”   

Brower says he has been blessed with the employees who worked with him over the years.

“How could I just pick one or two or three employees to highlight,” he said. “I experienced different blessing and learning experiences from each of them. In all the years at Bucklands, I only had to fire two employees. That’s over 44 years.”

Like his employees, Brower says they were always there for him, each other and the community when needed. 

He tells the story about when the whole crew rallied around him in his darkest hours. It was two nights before his father’s funeral — Dr. Ralph Brower. He got a call someone had broken into the building and caused immense damage.

“I was broken,” Brower said. “… that morning, I went in to clean up (and) one by one, our employee and their families walked in to help. They carried me. It was an overwhelming support with love.”

Photo courtesy of Michael Jaramillo

Inside Buckland Pharmacy, early 20th century, when it had a soda fountain.

Submitted photo

One of the earliest photos of Buckland Pharmacy shows several patrons on horseback in front of the drug store. The picture is believed to have been taken in 1904.

Bucklands was established in 1904 by Roy and Nelson Buckland. It is said that Roy Buckland won the lot from John Becker’s son, playing poker, while his father was out of town in Germany.

Elmer Atwood then bought the pharmacy from the Buckland family in 1955. He ran the pharmacy until 1979 when Brower purchased it.

The last day the pharmacy filled prescriptions was Tuesday, Dec. 20, and  all files were sent and are available  at Walgreens Pharmacy in Belen.

The store will officially close on Friday, Dec. 23. 

There are many memories and customers Brower cherishes, many of whom are second and third generations.

One fellow, Hank McCormick, a local railroader, artist and historian would go into Bucklands for coffee on a daily basis for years.

“Hank would not only paint local historical sites that told a story about early Belen but he also shared amazing stories,” Brower said. “He sometimes would display recent art work there.”

Another favorite customer was Emily Sedillo. She was part of the afternoon patrons that went in daily and would sit and visit with community members at the soda fountain.

“Since Bucklands was located at the heart of town, local city employees, lawyers, judges, would come in regularly to the fountain,” Brower remembers.

When the Belen Middle School had an open campus, many young Belenites would walk to Bucklands for their lunch time to get an ice cream or their famous nachos.

In the end, Buckland Pharmacy will be a part of our history, and its legacy will be that of community, customer service and appreciation.

“Wow, how can I put into words an overwhelming sense of gratitude,” Brower said. “I have had the opportunity to know and share a life with so many amazing people,” Brower said. “It has been an honor to work in the town I grew up in and still love being a member of.

“Thank you to all Belenites. I hope to see you around town.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.