This neon sign in downtown Charleston has been a fixture on King Street for decades, beckoning to customers of the former family-owned pharmacy. The two-story building was constructed in 1887 following the devastating earthquake of 1886. As was the case with many downtown buildings, businesses operated on the bottom floors while the second floor served as a residence. First used as a metalworks, this building later became Schwettmann’s Pharmacy in the 1920s. C.F. Schwettmann relocated to Charleston in 1871 after opening a pharmacy in Summerville – now Guerin’s – during the Civil War. His downtown Charleston business first occupied the Lining House on the corner of King and Broad Streets. That building had served as a pharmacy since the 18th century.
C.F. Schwettmann’s son, F.W. Schwettmann, succeeded his father in the family business in 1894. The pharmacy was later purchased by Dr. John Huchting, who moved the business to this building around 1920 and retained the Schwettmann name. F.W. Schwettmann’s grandson, F.S. Poulnot, later opened another pharmacy in the Schwettmann’s building at King and Broad; it closed in 1960.
James Anthony Tellis bought this building in 1946 and opened a soda shop, called Ye Olde Fountain, here in 1949. In 1952 two of Tellis’s children, Vera and Tony, finished pharmacy school at the nearby Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and opened a drug store in their father’s building alongside the soda fountain. The soda fountain operated until the 1960s. Following the death of Tony Tellis in 1983, Vera and her sister, Alice Tellis Critikos, became partners in the business. Vera Tellis, who had been working as a pharmacist at MUSC, then came to the family business to serve as the pharmacist in 1988. They rented the upstairs as office space.
The Tellis family closed the pharmacy in 2011 but maintained a store in the building for another year. Vera and Alice finally closed the entire business in 2012; Vera Tellis was 80 years old. The family continues to own and lease the building, and today it is occupied by an antiques business. However, the familiar mortar and pestle sign still lights up the lower commercial end of King Street.
Nancy Chaney says
This is to correct the experience my now ex-husband stated below. First, this occurred in 2002. We were returning from dinner headed back to the B&B we were staying at for our anniversary. It was dark except for the street lamps. He was two steps ahead of me which was not uncommon. As we approached the pharmacy it was lit up like a Christmas tree. As we were passing by I was looking in the window thinking to myself “I wonder what aisle the Advil is on” when a black mist started rising toward the ceiling. My brain was trying to process what I was seeing when all of a sudden my ex slams on brakes, turns around to look back at me, is white as a ghost (pun intended) and asked me did I see that. I said yes, but I always have since I was raised in a home that was haunted. However, my ex never believed. The story didn’t end there. Whatever it was hitched a ride home with us. My ex liked to go to bed early and he snored so he slept downstairs in the master bedroom. I’m a night owl and like to sleep with the TV timer on so I would sleep in the guest bedroom upstairs. It had been two or three weeks since our trip and I was asleep upstairs. At three o’clock in the morning the TV in the game room which is over the master suite turns on and is blasting. I sit up in bed not knowing what to think when John storms upstairs screaming at me thinking I was responsible. Later that day we we explored every possible scenario but came up with nothing. Three weeks later at the same time in the morning I woke up and felt like I was in a fun house. Everything was distorted. I can remember trying to get down the stairs which were huge and was so afraid I would fall. When I finally made it to the bottom I screamed out to John. He said come here, come here! When I made it to the bed he said close your eyes, don’t look! There’s a man looking in the window! Somehow we managed to fall asleep. Next morning when we woke we realized that there was no way anyone could have been looking in the window. The window treatments were drawn tight.
john chaney says
I remember around 2010 walking by the store after a late meal seeing what appeared to be a lady dressed in a long black dated dress maybe 1800’s shopping and when I did a double take she vanished into thin air.
Richard Hamilton says
My father lived in the apartment right where the sign is attached in the late 1950s. He always spoke well of the owners. This and the Hatman, as well as First Federal on Broad where the lower King/Broad shopping area.