The former Lewis Pharmacy/Emporium building and gravel parking lot just south of the old pharmacy building have been sold to Bill Cook, who grew up in Canton and founded the largest privately held medical-device supplier business in the world, Cook Medical Group of Bloomington, Ind. He has shown an interest in restoring historic buildings, including the old Randolph building on the east side of the Canton square.
The deal was closed Friday, said Jim Murphy, president of CFC, Inc., a Cook Industries real estate management company. He declined to disclose the purchase price.
“We want to restore the building in its current state and put it back in its original use. We hope to have a pharmacist locate there,” Murphy said. “We’re going to keep all the fixtures and furniture as is and refurbish in place.”
He explained the main floor will feature a pharmacy and retail business. Offices for one to four persons will be built on the second floor. Also, an elevator will be installed at a place to be determined, which will be a convenience for those on the ground floor, Murphy said.
He noted the pharmacy and emporium originally were two buildings, but were considered as one building in this case. “We are going to be here next week to clean the store out, and measuring to confirm interior dimensions,” Murphy said. The date the pharmacy building was built at 8 S. Main St. is not known, but it is believed to have been in or around 1889. A pharmacy called Gustine’s Drug Store opened there in 1915. An inlaid tile design on the floor of the building’s entrance spells the name of the building’s first owners.
The name changed after Ed Lewis Sr. purchased the property in 1937. His son, Ed Lewis Jr., joined him in the business in 1947. Ed Lewis Jr. sold the pharmacy part of the business in 2005, but the building stayed open as Lewis Emporium. Then, after Ed Lewis Jr. and his father had been in business at the popular local gathering spot for coffee and sodas for more than 70 years, the building was closed Feb. 20, 2009. It had been for sale since then, along with the parking lot.
The building still has its original cabinetry, booths, functional soda fountain, black and white checkerboard floor and decorative art glassware. Valerye Lewis, daughter of Ed Lewis Jr., previously has said the glasses, cups and spoons would remain with the soda fountain in case the next owner wanted them. She hoped whoever purchased the building would preserve it. Mark Rothert, executive director of Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development, in January nominated the Lewis Pharmacy/Emporium building for listing among the top 10 sites for 2009 by Landmarks Illinois, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Illinois’ architecturally and historically significant structures and sites.
The Canton building was accepted for the list in April. It joined other sites listed including the 136-year-old Arcade Building in Riverside, an early U.S. example of a multi-tenant commercial structure; the Archer House in Marshall, built 169 years ago by the town’s founder and considered one of the state’s oldest hotels; the Aurora Masonic Temple, a neoclassical building designed in 1922; and the 1903 Chautauqua Auditorium in Shelbyville, a 20-sided wood-frame structure with capacity for 6,000 people, making it the biggest surviving ‘‘Chautauqua’’ auditorium of its kind in the country.
“Obviously, it’s pretty competitive,” Rothert said about the list. “It’s like going back in time when you go in there.” Dave Lewis said Friday that on behalf of his sister, his brother Charles Lewis and father Ed Lewis Jr., when the decision was made to close the business in February, it was important to the family the future buyer of the property would be someone who would restore the historical and architectural flavor offered at Lewis Pharmacy/Emporium.
“I’m pretty confident CFC will accomplish this and much more,” he said of Murphy’s company. “A lot of people have worked very hard to bring this to fruition. It’s going to be a great thing for the city,” Lewis added. Asked how his father, who is in his upper 80s, was doing, he said, “Not too bad. He spent a few minutes speaking to Mr. Cook.
“I had gone out and purchased a copy of his biography (“The Story of Bill Cook: Ready, Shoot Aim”). I asked him for an autograph, and he graciously signed it. I had one hardback copy of “The Heald (Collection)” book left. Dad signed it and gave it to Mr. Cook.”