The downtown drug store was a staple of mid-twentieth century life in downtowns across Texas. Commerce had a wealth of these gathering places, including Oliver Bros, Ward’s, Wheeler’s, Cranford’s, and the Corner Drug Store. Local pharmacists delivered medicines and provided healthcare even as soda jerks whipped up Coca-Cola floats, malts, and coffee at the soda fountain. 1202 Main Street was home to Wheeler’s Drug, operated by Jim Wheeler from at least 1926. When A.B. (‘Abie’) Cranford and Helen Cranford moved to Commerce from Mt. Vernon in 1933, Abie began working at the store. He became a fixture of downtown, purchasing a ¼ interest in the store in 1941 and buying Wheeler out in 1946. Cranford’s Drugs became known for their pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches. Local memory even has them hand delivering vanilla bean ice cream to Cecile Gee, wife of the East Texas State University president.
Sadly the store, with its iconic marble soda fountain and mirrored bar burned in 1969. The fire, which was caused by faulty wiring in the air conditioning unit, also damaged the doctor’s office of K.C. Smith and John K. Smith on the second floor. Abie and Helen decided not to rebuild, and Abie finished out his career at Ward’s Drugstore on the west side of Washington St. The location became White’s Fabric Shop (1971) and the Commerce Independent School District and City Water District tax office (1974-1982). The location burned again in 1982 along with the adjacent Palace Theater and has been an empty lot ever since.