When a friend tells you “I wouldn’t move up there for nothing” about a town, it’s not usually considered a glowing recommendation. However, that advice didn’t deter Bill “Doc” Copeland from giving Hillsville a try. Now, after 49 years, he’s retiring as perhaps Hillsville’s best-known pharmacist.
Copeland said Bob Marx gave him that advice back in 1965 after spending a few months in Hillsville. However, it wasn’t long before Bobbie, Bill’s wife, suggested they drive up to look at the town.
“When we came, Hillsville was having a Civil War centennial celebration, and everybody had grown beards,” said Copeland. “We went down and looked at the Carroll Drug and talked to Dr. (Joseph) Early, one of the owners. We walked around town, looked at the schools, and somehow met Bart Harmon, who showed us more of the town.”
Copeland eventually ended up at a local bank, where James Beamer asked him “a jillion questions.” “He told us that maybe we could work something out and for us to come back,” added Copeland.
“We ate at the Towne House Restaurant, and Bobbie said, ‘Why don’t we just spend the night?’ So we spent the night at the Knob Hill Motor Lodge. All the way home the next day, Bobbie said this might be a good time to do something.”
A short time later, Copeland returned to Hillsville to once again talk with Beamer about a loan to buy the Carroll Drug.
“Nowadays when you get a loan you have to sign a stack of papers this thick,” he said, holding his fingers about four inches apart. “The bank financed the loan with one piece of paper, a 90-day note that we renewed until we paid it off.”
Copeland rented an apartment in town for several months before Bobbie and their three daughters – Cindy, Linda and Laurie – made the move up the mountain from Danville.
“This little town just connected with Bobbie Jean, and the kids made friends quicker than we did,” he said.
About a year later, Copeland started an endeavor that lasts even today – a newspaper column entitled “William Tells ‘Em.”
“It started out by accident when some people suggested I write an article introducing myself. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
Two years exactly after moving to Hillsville, a fire on April 1, 1967 destroyed the Carroll Drug, which had underwent two of three stages of a planned renovation.
“Just as I came up the hill, the front end of the drug store just exploded, with some parts of the building landing across the street where the Shell Service Station used to be,” said Copeland, noting that the Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department was able to save perhaps the most important items in the building – the drug store’s prescription records.
Despite that setback, the Carroll Drug was only out of business one day.
“Glen Jackson said he had some space I could use, so I moved into what is now the Cooley and Compton building. Rex Slusher and many others spent all day Saturday and Sunday working and we opened for business on Monday,” said Copeland. “Mr. Jackson wouldn’t take a penny,” Bill added. “I did sneak around and pay some of the guys who worked all day, but Mr. Jackson never would take anything.”
Exactly one year later, the new Carroll Drug was dedicated, complete with the town’s first elevator. In addition, a time capsule was buried under the sidewalk in front of the building. It will be opened on April 1, 2018.
Probably the most memorable thing about the Carroll Drug was the soda fountain, which was a favorite meeting place for young and old alike.
“That was back in the day when you could smoke and George Cooley would smoke his cigar and talk with other businessmen about real estate, finance and each other,” said Copeland.
Despite being a community favorite, the soda fountain didn’t make the cut when Copeland moved from the Carroll Drug location downtown to S. Main St. to open Blue Ridge Pharmacy in 1989.
“I still have people asking me 25 years later why we don’t have a soda fountain,” said Copeland.
Although the soda fountain fell by the wayside, one of the things that has stood the test of time is the loyalty of Copeland’s employees, many of whom started out working for him while in high school as part of the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) program.
“I think all my employees have stayed with me until they retired or moved away,” said Copeland.
Although Copeland has been involved in many civic organizations, served on many boards and held a term on town council, what people will miss most is the service he provided for these 49 years to his customers.
Not only has he filled over one million prescriptions, he has done it with a smile and a kind word, as well as a smiley face and a tootsie roll. Copeland has made numerous after-hour trips, including nights, holidays and weekends, to ensure his customers were taken care of.
But the people of Hillsville and Carroll County have also given him something very important, said Copeland.
“It’s been a real joy to be a part of a small town and the county has been very good to us,” he said. “I don’t know what it takes to make something perfect, but Carroll County made it perfect for us.”
Michael Howlett can be contacted at 276-728-7311 or on Twitter@MikeEHowlett