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Historic Palmer Pharmacy enters new life as community resource hub Marksbury Family WayPoint Center

Governor Andy Beshear greets ; the new center was funded by the Marksbury Family Foundation
Clay Wallace
Governor Andy Beshear greets philanthropists Beverly and Logan Marksbury; the new center was funded by the Marksbury Family Foundation.

The new Marksbury Family WayPoint Center joins the city’s three other WayPoints, each one acting as a “one stop” spot offering community resources.

“So, no wrong door,” said President and CEO of United Way of the Bluegrass (UWBG) Timothy Johnson. “Typically, a person will come in with a need for financial counseling, or how to use a budget, or maybe they need to increase their credit or decrease their debt; they can come into the center. If they need help with getting a job or getting a better job where they can have more income, this is the place to come.”

The center also offers referrals to other social service organizations, like those capable of offering emergency food and housing support.

The Marksbury Family WayPoint Center is at 400 East Fifth Street, the site of the historic Palmer Pharmacy - the first black-owned Rexall franchise. More recently, the building was home to the Catholic Action Center’s day shelter, which operated until 2016.

Since then, it was acquired by the city, slated for demolition, and left vacant - until a joint effort from preservationists spurred its rehabilitation. Grants were secured by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. Following a repair bill totaling over $300,000, the city donated the building last year to United Way of the Bluegrass. Through a collaboration between the Marksbury Family Foundation and UWBG, it is now open again as the new Marksbury Family WayPoint Center, a resource hub serving the East End - the same neighborhood once served by Zirl Palmer and his pharmacy.

City and state leaders attended a ribbon cutting honoring both Palmer’s legacy and a commitment to the neighborhood’s future.

“Just over three-score years ago, Dr. Zirl Palmer opened up this pharmacy right here in this community,” said Senator Reggie Thomas. “That’s significant because, at that time, members of this community had to travel at least 3 miles to get to the nearest pharmacy.”

Palmer was multifaceted: a WWII veteran, a baseball player, and a prominent entrepreneur. After one of his three pharmacies was bombed in a racist attack, Palmer continued to serve on local councils as a civil rights advocate. In 1972, Palmer became the first Black man appointed to the UK Board of Trustees.

State Representative George Brown Jr. grew up only a few blocks away from the pharmacy. He says, just as Palmer was much more than a pharmacist, Palmer’s Rexall was more than a drug store.

“He had a soda fountain in here where young African-Americans could bring a girlfriend, or a girlfriend could bring a boyfriend, and we could sit at that soda fountain,” recalled Brown. “We couldn’t go down on Main Street, but we could come here.”

Neighborly Concerns
The new facility will act as a “one-stop” spot for community health screenings, needs assessments, financial mobility counseling, and job fairs. Councilwoman Tayna Fogle praised the WayPoint serving her district – and used her platform to make a demand.
Ribbon-cutting attendees pose for a picture outside the new Marksbury Family WayPoint Center in the restored Palmer Pharmacy.

Councilwoman Tanya Fogle praised the new WayPoint for turning the old pharmacy, which both her mother and grandmother had frequented, into a community hub once again. However, she also used her platform to make a demand.

“We need one thing,” she said, addressing the governor and the mayor. “We have a sober living home here; we’re going to have teenagers coming in here. That building has to go.”

Fogle pointed to a liquor store across the street. On the Chestnut Street side, there is an ATM. On the Fifth Street side, facing the WayPoint, are two vending machines.

“In those vending machines are drug paraphernalia,” said Fogle. “I don’t know why a liquor store would sell condoms and tire gauges; those are instruments that you use to smoke crack cocaine out of.”

Though Fogle worried the liquor store might pose a stumbling block, she spoke enthusiastically about the resources the new WayPoint will bring. The center began offering services immediately after the ribbon cutting and open house ended.

“We’ve partnered with the city,” said Johnson. “We expect ten employers to be here this afternoon, and we’re actually open for business starting today.”

Fogle says she plans to hold a second, community-oriented grand opening outside of typical working hours, where more of the community - including young people - will be free to come and see a piece of Lexington’s legacy.