Downtown Cary will never be the same: Ashworth Drugs is closing after serving Cary for 67 years.
From a seat at the lunch counter, owner and founder Ralph Ashworth has watched the “sleepy little town of Cary” growing and changing all around him since he first opened the fountain and pharmacy in 1957. He was there almost everyday, swapping stories and sharing memories with the community while eating one of their famous hot dogs.
“Back then, we were in the center of Cary. I was selling bus tickets to New York, Maine. We were the Western Union,” he said. “Cary was a sleepy little town of around 2,000 people. Now it’s 182,000. The dynamics have changed tremendously.”
He says he’s seen third and fourth generation children coming through his store.
“It’s like family,” he said.
Ashworth says nothing lasts forever, and everything has a sunset to it. As long-time customers watch the sun set on the beloved store, many took to social media to share their memories and say goodbye.
Generations of memories at Ashworth Drugs
“It felt just like home,” said R. Bruce King, a sentiment many shared on the Downtown Cary group on Facebook.
Tricia Turner Scarboro says her family has been going since 1967, making memories for decades at the lunch counter.
“Our whole family would go up there the week of Christmas. We did this for over 20 years. Our family grew and it was hard to get everyone together, but we treasure every year we were together and always enjoyed talking with Ralph. He would reserve tables for our family knowing we were coming,” she recalls.
“As a Cary native this place holds so many memories in my heart,” said Julie Foster Davis, who remembers fondly the smell of old building and hot dogs greeting her at the door. “We spent many days drinking orangeades at the counter, and my favorite was their cherry smash!”
Davis’ children grew up eating at Ashworth’s, as well.
“Many thanks to the Ashworth’s for giving us these precious memories of the best days of our lives,” she says.
Jane Pearson Pope recalls her son and his father bonding over hot dogs at Ashworth’s in the 1980s.
“Now we take our 8-year-old granddaughter to Ashworth’s. It’s her favorite place to eat lunch on days when school is out,” she says.
For some families, Ashworth’s was a way of connecting to past memories during challenging times. Lisa Marks recalls bringing her 80-year-old mother to Ashworth’s.
“She was suffering through Alzheimer’s, and one thing she loved about downtown was Ashworth’s,” she recalls. “I think it reminded her of places when she was young. We would go in and get ice cream and sit at a little table outside people watching. Sitting there outside the store, the happiness on her face was priceless.”
She adds, “She’s gone now. Soon Ashworth’s will be too. Both cherished memories.”
‘Never forgotten:’ Ralph Ashworth delivered emergency medicine to Cary families
Davis also remembers Ashworth coming into work after hours just to ensure her family got medicine they needed in an emergency.
“Ralph Ashworth filled all of the prescriptions for our family for many years. My mom said from time to time in emergency situations he would come in after hours as needed for us,” she says.
Cindy Seifer, who moved to Cary in 1972, also remembers Ashworth working overtime to ensure her children got the medicine they needed.
“Both my son and I were sick, and my husband was out of town. It was 9 p.m. when my son’s temperature spiked to over 102. Of course, everything was closed! His pediatrician called Ralph Ashworth at home with a prescription. Not only did he go to the store and fill the prescription, he also delivered it to my house at about 10 p.m. that night,” she said. “I have never forgotten that.”
Even Christopher Ashworth, Ralph and Daphne’s grandson, recalls his grandfather going above and beyond to bring medicine to the community.
He recalls “being at my grandparents house and their home phone ringing on Sunday or in the night for an emergency prescription, and granddad dropping what he’s doing and going to fill the prescription.”
The best medicine at Ashworth’s was more than just the pharmacy – the milkshakes and food helped make sick children feel better, too, according to Beth Griffin.
“If our kids were sick and needed medicine, the trip to pick up the meds at the pharmacy always included a hot dog and milkshake from the counter. Will miss those hot dogs and that pimento cheese!” she says.
Family and employees remembers ‘growing up’ at Ashworth’s
Kim Tyson worked behind the soda fountain at Ashworth Drugs in the 1970s. It was her first job as a teenager.
“I remember Daphne as being a lovely person and a smart business woman. Ralph always had a big grin on his face and something witty to say to make us laugh. It was a fun place to work and a wonderful central gathering spot in the heart of sleepy Downtown Cary, population 8,000.”
She recalls serving up “the most famous chili dogs in town,” as well as fresh toasted pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches. Even decades later, she remembers a man named Bill, who would come in almost every day and visit with customers for hours. For many, Ashworth’s was more than a place to shop – it was a gathering place for community.
“Walking in there now takes me back 50 years,” she says. “Ashworth’s will live in the hearts of so many for years to come.”
Christopher Ashworth has a million memories of growing up in the store. He says on roadtrips with his grandparents, his grandmom would pull out soda fountain sandwiches. On Sundays, his dad would take him out for ice cream and candy bars.
He recalls, “Being ‘babysat’ by the soda fountain highschoolers, who were larger than life to a little kid,” as well as “so many hot dogs, BBQ and orangeades, chocolate malts, and sneaking Reeses Pieces, Twix and Butterfingers.”
He remembers playing on the wheelchairs in the aisles and playing with the crutches, smelling the different aftershaves and watching kids “go googly-eyed over ‘Mr. Al,” who was behind the fountain.
Most of all, he says he will remember watching families relive memories and traditions day after day, week after week – and taking his own children to create their own.
Ashworth will re-open the front and fountain temporarily
For locals hoping to taste one last Ashworth’s hot dog or get a piece of Ashworth history for themselves, the store will re-open later this month to sell the front stock.
Ashworth says it’s mandatory for them to stay closed two weeks. Soon after, they plan to open their doors to sell the rest of their front stock — and allow customers to re-live a little nostalgia.
“I have made arrangements for Al to come back, and we are planning to have the fountain open for that week,” he said. “Probably hot dogs and ice cream, not the sandwiches. We’ll just have to see how that plays out. We need to sell all that front merchandise.”
What will happen to the Ashworth’s building?
Ashworth, who has been going to his store every morning for nearly 70 years, says he’ll miss the people.
“Some employees have been there over 30 years, such long-standing and faithful people,” he said. “I’ve just loved them all.”
Ashworth says you’ll still see him around Downtown Cary. He’s still involved with the Chamber of Commerce and the church and a number of other things. He still cares deeply about Cary.
“Some of them will still have to put up with me and my bad jokes,” he laughed.
He says since he owns the building, it’ll remain standing and he will find something new to do with it.
“We’ll find something we all like,” he said. “I guarantee you everybody’s going to like what we put there. There’s a number of options.”
Plus, he still uses the upstairs for Hallmark stock and his personal office.
Most of all, Ashworth says he just appreciates all the incredible memories he’s made along the way.
“I’d thank all the people who have been coming all these years,” he said.