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Eye on Keloland: Lewis Drug's Prescription for Success

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A longtime family-run business based in Sioux Falls will be celebrating an important milestone next week. That’s when Lewis Drug marks 80-years in business.

Lewis Drug opened way back on February 10, 1942, during the middle of World War II; a time when even the most basic necessities were hard to come by, in a way similar to the coronavirus-related supply shortages we see today.

“Back then, people would basically treasure hunt for items in your store and they’d be lucky to find anything they wanted, because things were so scarce during the war,” Lewis Drug President & CEO Mark Griffin said.

Lewis Drug’s original store was on Phillips Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls. The business cashed-in on its strategic location right across from the State Theatre.


“And we sold popcorn across the street from them as a promotion and people would come get their popcorn at Lewis and walk across the street and watched the movie,” Griffin said.

President & CEO Mark Griffin’s father John was Lewis Drug’s first store manager. Mark began his career at Lewis at the ripe age of 10.

“I used to do everything my dad told me to do, including pick up the parking lot. Back in the day, they didn’t have machinery, I picked up the parking lot,” Griffin said.

The Lewis name stuck through the decades, even though its namesake didn’t stick around for long.

“Back in the day, you had to have a pharmacist as a title holder of the pharmacy-drug store concept, and we had a gentleman that my father knew and his partner knew, his name was Lewis and he left after a couple of years because he didn’t think we were going to make it, and it’s worked out okay,” Griffin said.

It’s worked out so well, in part, because Lewis Drug was a pioneering presence in the industry; becoming one of the nation’s first self-service stores, bucking the practice of staff handling all the products while customers could only look, but not touch.

“You were not allowed to shop even over-the-counter products at the time. So hence, we were called Lewis Self-Service, because in our stores, you could help yourself, as we still do,” Griffin said.

Senior Vice-President of Merchandise and Marketing Bob Meyer has seen plenty of changes during his 40-plus years with Lewis Drug.

“We have sold anything from building materials, we used to have car service center, we had bakeries back in the day, we had the Lewie Burger because we had some concessions in the store,” Meyer said.

From its single store in downtown Sioux Falls, Lewis Drug has grown to 57 locations across South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Griffin credits Lewis’ longevity and growth to a dedicated staff, and its loyal customers.

“It’s all about the wonderful team we have at Lewis and it’s all about the great customer base that has been supportive for 80 years,” Griffin said.

Lewis enters its ninth decade still in expansion mode, with four new stores in the works over the next year-and-a-half. This World War II-era family enterprise is now in its third generation and still growing.

“People go places where trust is key and people trust Lewis,” Griffin said.

Griffin calls his staff “health care heroes” for tirelessly working to meet the needs of customers during the pandemic.

80th anniversary celebrations start next week and will last through much of the year. Among the promotions will be a contest for someone to win a new Mitsubishi car.

You can read more about the history of Lewis Drug, including its growth throughout the city of Sioux Falls.
Perry Groten

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