After 60 years, Doc's has more than earned its place in Arlington's rich cultural history.
Doc's — formally known as the Green Valley Pharmacy — is the first known black-owned pharmacy in Arlington and the second-oldest business in the Nauck neighborhood. The Friendly Cab Co. is a few months older.
The business, at 2415 Shirlington Road, opened in late 1952 in a building that had been built as a grocery store a decade prior. It's owner, 89-year-old Leonard "Doc" Muse, continues to operate the store today with a team of volunteers.
Tuesday night, the Green Valley Pharmacy became Arlington County's first historically black commercial building to be given a local historic district designation. Development won't be prohibited around the building — or above it, necessarily — though a strict review process is now in place to preserve its character.
But the Arlington County Board's action Tuesday was more about preserving a building. As board member Chris Zimmerman said, it was about preserving Arlington's collective memory.
“It is an honor to leave my legacy, which has contributed to the cultural development of Arlington's African American community,” Muse said in a statement. “I am proud to have been such a positive force in the growth of diversity in Arlington.”
'A Beacon of Light'
The county plans to install a historic marker at the site, an estimated $2,000 expense.
But no dollar amount can be put on the memories that are being preserved.
Hazel Brown told the board that she frequented the pharmacy when she was 8 years old, when she was being raised by her grandmother who couldn't afford medicine.
"Dr. Muse told me that my future was being built right then — that you can overcome all obstacles," said Brown, Muse's lead volunteer staff member. "Without the Green Valley Pharmacy, there will be no unity, no closeness, no gathering of all the diversity that is now in our great county."
Brown was one of several community members to share their memories Tuesday night of what Doc's meant to them.
Joseph Crouch called Muse "a beacon of light for the people in our community." Crouch was a young man about to head off to Vietnam when Doc called him aside.
"He told me to hold my head up and be strong, and no matter what, God is on your side. That's the kind of faith he instilled in young men," Crouch said. "We had a lot of troubled men in the valley. And Doc saved a lot of them. And I'm one of them."
Nauck resident Noni Dabney talked about visiting the store as a child and then later in life, after having children of her own, not always having enough money to buy food. Muse would let her buy things "on the tick" — essentially, on store credit — and she would repay him when she could.
"Along with that, he was just a very humble human being, very giving," she said. "He had so much strength in guiding people. He was more than just a person who owned a store… It was like coming to see your dad or grandfather. And he cared about us."
Ronnie Howard told of having a toothache once as a young man. He didn't have a job, nor did he have money to get his pain and antibiotic prescriptions filled. It was cold out, and his face was swollen. Doc didn't even ask him when he would be able to pay. And he filled the scripts.
John Allen told the board that his father worked two jobs and had epilepsy. Doc would bring the medicine to him:
"He's been a good man for all of us in this community, and I grew up here," Allen said. "To tear that place down would hurt a lot of people's spirit, their soul."
At a time when white-owned pharmacies would not serve black customers, the Green Valley Pharmacy provided a key service — not just to Arlington, but to black neighborhoods in Alexandria and Fairfax County.
The Nauck community was originally known as Green Valley; Green Valley Manor was situated on a 46-acre farm near 23rd Street South and Arlington Ridge Road, according to an Arlington County staff report.
The area has a rich African-American history dating to the mid-19th century, and it was home to some of the area's first free blacks to own land in the area.
For more information, click here to to read the Arlington County staff report. The history of Nauck begins on Page 16.