From tragedy to triumph: The history of McElroy’s Pharmacy

By on January 24, 2018

A 1955 exterior view of McElroy’s Pharmacy. Eight years later, future owner Jeff Eshleman would be on an errand to buy Popsicles at the pharmacy when he heard the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on the radio.

On a cold February day in 1940, a fire broke out at Hensel’s Drug Store in Lititz. Although nobody was hurt, the blaze spread through two floors of the building, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Sadly, Hensel never fully recovered financially from the disaster.

But out of the ashes emerged what is now one of the oldest and most beloved businesses in downtown Lititz.

This is the story of McElroy’s Pharmacy.

Let’s begin in December of 1916, when Mr. H.P. Fry first opened a drug store at the corner of Main and Cedar streets. He did a brisk business, carrying an assortment of cough drops, cups and saucers, cornstarch, medication, and soaps.

After a few years, Curtis Hensel took over the establishment until the fire mentioned above caused them to close. But after sitting empty for several months, it finally found a new buyer in Glenn McElroy, who would renovate the inside and re-open on Saturday, June 8, 1940.

His efforts proved to be a big success. Patrons could now order soups, sandwiches, or Yuengling ice cream while perched at the stainless steel counter with their friends and families after some shopping or while waiting to get a prescription filled. On opening day, one special included ten cent milkshakes.

Glenn McElroy, the current pharmacy’’s namesake, rebuilt the business following the 1940 fire that destroyed Hensel’s Pharmacy.

In June of 1940, they ran a special “garden exhibit” contest. For this promotion, they asked patrons to bring in odd-shaped potatoes or extra-large plants. The items were then judged, and free quarts of ice cream were offered as prizes to the winners. Store specials during that month included almond lotion for forty-nine cents; Anacin pain reliever at fifty-nine cents; Milk of magnesia at twenty-nine cents; and bathing caps available for a mere ten cents.

So what makes McElroy’s so special after all these years? Some say that it’s the hometown feel. Others cite their longevity in the community.

And nobody knows that better than Dale Shelley of Lititz.

“I started as a soda jerk there back in 1941,” he said. “The fountain was very big at that time. We had a counter and four booths, and teachers from Lititz High School would go there often for lunch.”

After graduating from pharmacy school in 1954, Shelley entered the armed services. Then in 1956, he went back to work, eventually taking over the company in 1973.

After Shelley’s retirement, the next owner would be Jeff Eshleman, who purchased the corporation with his wife on April 1, 1991.

Like Shelley, Eshleman is also a former employee turned owner.

“My final class at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy was in April of 1975,” Eshleman said. “I began working there as soon as I could load up my gear and drive back to Lititz.”

The soda fountain was a popular attraction for many years at
McElroy’s. Dale Shelley, who would eventually own the business,
got his start there as a soda jerk in 1941.

When asked about a unique memory over the years, Eshleman recalls a very somber day during his childhood.

“During one warm day in November of 1963, my sixth grade teacher Mr. Remetz sent me there to pick up popsicles he had purchased for the class. As I entered the side door of the pharmacy, the radio announced that President Kennedy had been shot. I then returned to school and told Mr. Remetz what I had heard, and he rushed to the school’s office to confirm the tragedy. A few minutes later, a message came over the school’s public address system signaling a moment of prayer followed by an early dismissal.”

H.P. Fry opened this pharmacy at the corner of Main and Cedar in 1916. Curtis Hensel continued the tradition, followed by Glenn McElroy, Dale Shelley, and Jeff Eshleman, who continues to operate the business today.

Through the years, McElroy’s has continued to adapt to current trends and has always persevered. And now, after almost eighty years since Glenn McElroy opened, it remains a time-honored place in the community.

“We have been blessed with many loyal customers over the years,” Eshleman said. “Our philosophy has always been to treat everyone the way we would like to be treated.”

Cory Van Brookhoven is a freelance feature writer and president of the Lititz Historical Foundation. He can be reached at


One Comment

  1. Not Mary

    January 26, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    The woman named Mary that works there is the best! She deserves a raise

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