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Trailblazing Black-Owned Pharmacy In Lexington Eyed For Preservation

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Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation
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The building that housed Lexington’s only Black-owned pharmacy in the early 1960s could be revived thanks to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Billed as the largest preservation effort ever undertaken to save Black historic sites, the trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has taken notice of the Palmer Pharmacy Building, and is set to fund work that could breathe new life into the space.

Located at the southeast corner of 5th Street and Chestnut, Palmer's Pharmacy was established by Dr. Zirl Palmer. In an interview archived at the University of Kentucky’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Palmer recalls what brought him to Lexington in 1961.

"My reason for coming here was they had roughly nine Black physicians and four dentists, and no Black pharmacists," he said. "Segregation really prevailed then." 

So Palmer launched what would become Rexall’s first African-American-owned pharmacy in the entire country – and the foot traffic followed. The combination pharmacy, lunch counter, and doctor’s office proved a "boon to the neighborhood," according to the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation.

Read more about the history of the Palmer Pharmacy

But Palmer’s second location would be shattered by an explosion in 1968, a bombing for which all all-white jury found Ku Klux Klan grand dragon Phillip J. Campbell guilty. The incident led Palmer to sell off his businesses and retire.

Now, with the help of the grant funding, preservationists may turn his original pharmacy building into a home for social services and philanthropic groups.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.