Silver’s Drug Shop
By Dan Shine
The writer Horatio Algier died in 1899. Many people living today are unaware of his life or his many novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort, through hard work, determination, courage and honesty. These novels served to teach and inspire generations of American boys to pursue similar goals.
In that same year, 1899, William Silver was born in New Haven; he was the son of Russian peasants. Together with his family, he spent his early years in the attic of a multi-family house in one of New Haven’s poor sections.
One day when he was sixteen, William (known as Bill) and his friend Isadore White made up their minds that they should go looking for work, so the boys walked down Chapel Street until they same upon a haberdashery with a “help wanted” sign in the window. Since Isadore’s family had some background in that type of business, he went in and got the job, sweeping the floors and the sidewalk out in front. Eventually, he would become the owner, and the business would carry his name.
For Bill Silver, the road to success was a bit more indirect. He presented himself to the owner of Riker’s Drug at the corner of Church and Chapel, where he got a job tending the soda fountain. Part of that job included cleaning the mortars and pestles and the tiles that were used to prepare medications in that era.
About a year later, Bill became aware of an opening for an apprentice at Dotton’s Pharmacy in Fair Haven. In those days, there was no formal training for pharmacists: individuals rose instead by way of an apprenticeship program with an exam to follow.
Bill’s hours were from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and many today would see this as a terrible burden for a young man; however what Bill saw was an opportunity. Because of the long hours, the owner Mr. Dotton let Bill sleep in his attic in order to forego the long commutes to and from home.
Bill also took his meals with his host family: Having come from peasant stock, Bill was mightily impressed by the Dotton family, who ate at a table with a linen tablecloth, who dressed properly for dinner, and who said grace before they broke bread. Bill made up his mind to model himself after the gentlemanly figure of Mr. Dotton—a decision which would serve him well.
By 1919, Bill had gained a few years of experience in the business, and typically could be seen dressed in suits. One day, Mr. Dotton informed him that there was a drug shop for sale in West Haven, and suggested that he check out the opportunity.
Bill offered the owner, Mr. Wood a down payment of $500 which he had borrowed from his sisters; Mr. Wood told him, “You can pay me this much every month and I’ll let you know when you own the store.” They closed the deal with a handshake and Mr. Wood asked Bill what he would call the drug shop. “I think I’ll call it West Haven Drug Shop,” to which Mr. Wood’s response was, “Put your own name on it, son.” And thus, Silver’s Drug Shop was born.
The next morning, twenty-one year old Bill Silver arrived for work, asked for the store manager, and startled him by saying, “I’m Bill Silver; I’m the new owner; can you show me where I can hang up my hat and coat?”
To be continued-