OLIVIA - Fifty cents buys you a cup of coffee and a seat at the roundtable in Olivia Drug, where the issues of the day have been the source of steady banter since the early 1990s.

"I think Washington could learn a few things if they came here and listened. They could solve a few problems,'' said Gary Lohmeyer, who along with his wife, Jane, have made this all possible in Olivia.

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They've owned and operated Olivia Drug at the town's central intersection for nearly 40 years. It's featured a pharmacy, gift and collectibles store, and a selection of personal hygiene and non-prescription medications.

They opened the popular drugstore counter in the early 1990s and began selling ice cream, 50-cent coffee, fountain soda and other treats.

They close the doors on all of it at noon today, and that was the topic for the many patrons gathered at the tables and counter Tuesday. Many of the patrons, Babe Houdek among them, said they try to make it over every day. "For a good 10 years,'' she added.

There is one table always the most coveted, she and others said.

Olivia is losing two of its central district icons with the sale of Page Snyder Drug and Olivia Drug to Thrifty White, which has recently opened a pharmacy near the new RC Hospital and Clinics on U.S. Highway 212 on the east edge of town.

The front counter at Olivia Drug - once a common feature for drug stores - has been one of the last ones standing.

"We were looking to carve a little niche market, a way to create traffic,'' said Gary Lohmeyer of their decision to open the counter.

"It absolutely did what we intended to create traffic,'' added Jane Lohmeyer.

Patrons of the pharmacy were given a token for a free cup of coffee if they were being asked to wait for a prescription to be filled. People who might otherwise dash in and out with a prescription instead stayed long enough to shop, according to the Lohmeyers.

The impending loss of the two drugstores has been the main topic in recent weeks at the drugstore counter and its tables. Most people are holding out hope that the drugstore counter will be purchased and reopened. The Lohmeyers said they have had inquiries from seven or eight prospective buyers, and there has been discussion about what the city can do to help if an entrepreneur steps forward.

The Lohmeyers said they have declined offers to sell parts of the store's furnishings and have purposely kept all of the equipment, tables, chairs and everything needed for the front counter to continue so that it can be sold as a turnkey operation.

There is an opportunity here, they said, for someone with the right ambition and not afraid to work.

It takes a lot of work to run a small-town business, the Lohmeyers pointed out. There have been many Sundays and evenings when Gary Lohmeyer made special trips to the store to fill someone's emergency prescription. Both have always put in long days, and have dealt with growing volumes of paperwork.

And always, they offered small-town service, from putting in new watch batteries to making home deliveries at no charge. "It's like the saying, you don't realize what you've got until it's gone,'' said Gary when asked what the store's closing will mean.

He began working at the drugstore right after graduating from pharmacy school in 1973. He purchased the business when the opportunity came up in 1978. He and Jane had caught each other's eyes when he was making deliveries to the Olivia Nursing Home, where she had been working. They married in 1979.

The 1980s were boom years at the store. Giftware, crystal, wood works, collectibles, greeting cards and candy were among the big items on the retail side. Every town along U.S. Highway 212 had its own family-owned pharmacy with retail items, they said.

Competition from the big box stores, increased mobility by consumers, and the growth of convenience stores all served to chip away at the retail sales.

But through it all, the front counter has always been busy, and its patrons have never lacked for opinions on matters of the day. The Lohmeyers have listened in on many of those conversations over the years, and with no regrets.

"Pretty much common sense,'' said Gary Lohmeyer of what he has heard.