NEWPORT — Though they never thought they would say goodbye, Dave and Mary North are letting go of Newport Drug and the North Pole after a combined 83 years, giving the reins to their kids.
Dave and Mary announced they will retire from the business in September, when their children and Tricia Hinz and Brian North — who have already owned the business for about five years — will fully take over their parent's roles at the pharmacy and restaurant.
"I never thought we'd retire," Dave said.
The couple decided to exit the businesses after so many decades in light of Dave's Parkinson's diagnosis and the security of knowing it's still family-run.
They've been taking more breaks and vacations in the past few years, and Mary said now one day in September it will be like they go on vacation and never come back.
They will have to draw a "line in the sand" at some point, Dave said, but patrons will likely still spot them every now and again, working a few days here and there.
"Leaving relationships and customers will be the hardest part," Mary said.
Not only have they been there for decades, but they remember many customers who have been too.
"We have a very loyal following," Dave said.
Especially in smaller towns like Newport, Mary said people want to support their local businesses and are looking for places like that to go.
Their employees are in the same boat. Largely unheard of in the restaurant business, Mary said many of them have worked there over 20 years.
"We're still in business because we have very loyal employees," Dave said.
A long history
Dave — just as Tricia and Brian did — grew up at the Newport Center.
His father, Robert North, bought Village Drug and named it Newport Drug in 1947, when it was located approximately where Tinucci's Restaurant is now.
Not long after, Robert and George Fisher built the Newport Center in 1952, moving the business to the other side of the Highway 61.
Dave remembers picking up cigarette butts and spare change around the phone booths at the center when he was young.
Years later, Mary and Dave met at the North Pole, where Mary was working as a waitress during college.
After they wed, she didn't dive into the business right away. For several years she worked as a dietician at United Hospital. In 1992, she pivoted into becoming a different kind of dietician. She was part-time at the hospital by then, and though she had never been part of the business before, she has been ever since.
From that time on, Mary has spent most days on one side of the wall at the North Pole, and Dave on the other at Newport Drug.
"We never argue because we don't work together," Dave said with a laugh.
The restaurant has grown from about eight stools in the original Newport Drug building, to a space that fits 120 diners — and of course, the polar bears.
"(Newport Drug) have their following and we have our following," Mary said.
Though, there is some crossover. Dave said many patrons have their prescription filled while they get breakfast, and pick it up on their way out.
The annual Newport celebration, Pioneer Days, also originated at the Newport Center. At the first one in 1972 — and for many years after — it was held in the parking lot at the center.
Third and fourth generations
Tricia, working the pharmacy counter, marks the fourth generation of Norths to write prescriptions in Newport, and the third generation to own the business.
Much has changed since that first generation, from location to computerization to modernization.
Despite so much change, Mary said things stay more or less the same.
"We're still serving food to people."
The generations growing up with the businesses don't end with the North family members, either.
"We feed someone growing up, then they start having kids, and you feed them," Brian said. "It ties into family affair."
And the same goes for Newport Drug.
"We easily have four generations that have filled prescriptions," Tricia said.
That feeling isn't expected to change, even with its "new" leadership after Mary and Dave officially retire.
"We're firmly placed here, and happy to continue business," Brian said.
Though chain pharmacies have approached Dave and Mary to sell before, they hung on, never intending to retire. Even now, Tricia and Brian said they have another 20-30 years to hang on to the independent, family-run business in Newport.
If one thing is certain, though another generation is moving on from the business, the North name and business isn't expected to disappear anytime soon.