Georgetown Time Machine: Doc Dalinsky’s

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is visiting a legendary pharmacy that stood at the southwest corner of O and Wisconsin for many years. It was formally named Georgetown Pharmacy, but it was colloquially known as Doc Dalinksy’s after its longtime owner, Harold “Doc” Dalinsky.

The photo above shows the shop in 1977. Dalinsky retired and sold the shop just six years later in 1983. By that point, though, he had been running the shop for 48 years. And though it had a shabby appearance, it was quite the draw. As described in this New York Times article from the same year as the photo:

(GM would normally just grab some excerpts from old articles like this, but this one was just too full of details to slim down).

Even before Dalinski retired and sold the shop, people were gathering to honor his legacy. In 1982, the Times covered a gala held in Dalinsky’s honor, featuring a photo of the man himself:

Perhaps the gala was organized in anticipation of Dalinsky leaving the shop, because he did so just the next year. When Dalinsky died in 1992, the Post covered an impromptu memorial service held by some old regulars at the corner:

On a soggy corner of Georgetown yesterday, Doc Dalinsky’s friends and family and former customers danced and clapped under umbrellas while a fiddler fiddled and a baritone sang “If I Were a Rich Man” and an 8-by-10 brass plaque to Doc was dedicated while Arab merchants stood outside their shops and watched with puzzled looks.

“Doc,” said his widow, Marion, “would have loved this.”

Seemed like old times: good cigars, good bagels, good coffee, good-looking women (one with a puppy in her Gucci bag), famous newspapermen. It was a wake for Harry “Doc” Dalinsky, who ran the Georgetown Pharmacy on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and O Street NW for 48 years. Dalinsky died earlier this month at the age of 82. He had Alzheimer’s disease. He was a card, a character, a cigar connoisseur, a matchmaker. As Georgetown got busier and glitzier — as the stores began selling thick gold chains, Nike tennis shoes and french fries — Doc’s remained a messy blast from the past until he retired in 1983.

Doc became a fixture fairly quickly after opening his shop in 1935. Here he is hosting a soap box derby contest for Georgetown kids in 1938:

And GM doesn’t want to give the impression that the local newspapers failed to write about Dalinsky. Far from it. He appeared regularly as a character in his friend Art Buchwald’s column. And here’s a shot showing the chaotic interior of his shop in 1970 that appeared in a long profile of him entitled “Doc’s Georgetown Pharmacy isn’t just a drugstore, it’s a family”:

And of course, the Post covered the sad closing of the shop five years after Doc sold it:

Wisconsin Ave. was undergoing an uneasy transformation around Doc’s in this decade. With the opening of the Georgetown Park mall, many of the small shops along that corridor picked up stakes and moved into the shiny new shopping center. This left vacancies that were largely filled with newly arrived immigrant shopkeepers who saw the opportunity to sell what the 1980s crowds wanted. And that apparently was primarily gold chains.

Marc Fischer captured this tension a year earlier in a fascinating time capsule of an article, Street of Gold.

The article reads in part:

While malls, restaurants and night spots increasingly dominate busy M Street, the shops on Wisconsin-smaller storefronts on a narrower street-are changing too. More big names-the Gap, Banana Republic, Esprit. More strange little shops forever holding sales. A carnival atmosphere, the older merchants call it, an arcade, a bazaar.

They are talking, usually in hushed tones, about “the Iranians,” their term for a couple of dozen shops run or owned by Iranian immigrants. Longtime residents and merchants have developed sweeping theories maligning the immigrants, blaming them for running clothing and jewelry shops that attract a very “un-Georgetown” crowd.

They are also talking, as Mayor Marion Barry did recently, about jewelry merchants who sell the bulky gold chains fashionable among some young people, including many drug dealers. Jewelers who take large piles of cash from kids are “just as guilty of this drug epidemic asthe people who sell drugs,” the mayor generalized; he wants police to stand outside those shops to “scare away” druggies.

Georgetown, as seen through the dense row of disparate shops on lower Wisconsin, is in the throes of its latest identity crisis. It is a place of competing ideals, of clashing immigrant and American cultures, even outright hate and bigotry. The life of the avenue looks like shift changes at an industrial plant: suburban shoppers in the afternoon, couples and tourists in the evening, inner-city and college kids late at night and on weekends.

And when Fisher wanted to evoke the Georgetown that was passing, of course he cited Doc’s:


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