By Kelly Hargett
“A busy businessman who was never too busy to be a good neighbor.” This was the way John Marshall Pinnix, known affectionately around Kernersville as “Neighbor,” was remembered by Reverend H. B. Johnson shortly after his death in 1963. Today, if you ask the younger generation in Kernersville about Pinnix they may be able to tell you that it is the name on a building in Downtown Kernersville. However, for the older generation, the name Pinnix conjures images of a drug store, where people gathered to gossip and catch up on the latest news, and a man, working behind the counter filling prescriptions, ready to greet his neighbors with a friendly “Howdy Neighbor,” thus earning him his nickname.
Born in 1882, Neighbor Pinnix was the son of Reverend J.W. Pinnix, who was also a local schoolteacher, and his wife Victoria Caffey Pinnix. At the age of 18, Neighbor found himself working for Dr. B.J. Sapp, who ran the hotel in town and used one room of the hotel as a pharmacy. He quickly discovered an interest in his work and began borrowing books from his boss. When he felt he was ready, Neighbor traveled to Raleigh where he studied pharmacy and soon passed the North Carolina Pharmaceutical Board exam and obtained his license. He worked briefly in Raleigh but as soon as he heard that a frame building was for sale on the crossroads in Kernersville, he made his way home, purchased the property, and opened Pinnix Drug. That was in 1904. Later, he would build the brick building we see today in that same location.
According to the 1940 census, Neighbor Pinnix reported that he worked 75 hours per week. From accounts of his life, he was probably underestimating the amount of time he spent working. According to his grandson, Joe Pinnix, Jr., Neighbor never left Kernersville. He lived two doors down from the drug store and walked to work, never owning a car. “My granddaddy never saw the ocean, never saw the mountains. He never went on vacation. He never wanted to leave Kernersville.” Neighbor Pinnix worked hard to serve the community that he loved. He was in the drug store by 7:00 am, and could often be found working from 14 to 18 hours a day. Often he would go into the store in the middle of night to fill prescriptions for sick friends and neighbors. Once, when Neighbor did go out of town to Winston-Salem to catch a Twins minor league baseball game, it made the front page of the Kernersville News.
During the 1930’s, the Depression hit the United States hard, and the citizens of Kernersville felt the trying times just as much as the rest of the country. However, Kernersville had one saving grace. Neighbor Pinnix continued to work throughout the Depression filling prescriptions as they came in. These prescriptions were filled, even if there was no money to pay the man who was filling them. Neighbor sacrificed his own credit to ensure his neighbors did not go without any medication they may need. Even when folks were able to go back to work, Neighbor never asked to be repaid. According to a 1954 newspaper article, Neighbor is quoted as saying, “I’ve never asked them for it, don’t intend to. But I still have their friendship. And that’s more important.”
Neighbor Pinnix went out of his way to accommodate his customers and kept up with the changing times. He had a telephone installed in the drug store and allowed his customers to use it. When they began to use it more than he did, he had a 2nd line installed in the pharmacy. He had a television in the drug store during a time when most people did not have one in their homes, encouraging his customers to stay and enjoy it while he worked.
Although Neighbor was busy in the pharmacy, he found time to serve as an Alderman for 40 years. In 1921, when Neighbor was elected to his Alderman seat, Kernersville was already beginning improvements to the Town’s quality of life. During his tenure, he helped to usher in additional paved sidewalks, a municipal waterworks and sewer system, ensuring that Kernersville was a desirable place to live.
Neighbor Pinnix died on May 26, 1963, leaving a hole in the Kernersville community. Remembered by many as an excellent businessman and public servant, Neighbor Pinnix was known as a true friend to the citizens of Kernersville, who ensured that no matter what their circumstances may be, they could count on him to provide their medications, day or night.
So next time you are driving down Main Street in Kernersville, and you see the “Pinnix” name on the side of the old drug store on the corner, we hope you will remember Neighbor Pinnix with a smile.
Want to know more about our local history? Please visit the Kernersville Museum at 127 W. Mountain Street. Open 10:00 am – 4:00 pm Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm on Saturday. Admission is free. Follow us on Facebook & Instagram @KernersvilleMuseum.