Harrel’s Pharmacy: Norman Rockwell comes to Kingsville

One of the oldest operating business icons in downtown Kingsville is Harrel’s Kingsville Pharmacy.

Located on Kleberg Street for over 100 years, the Harrel family has graced the business community by serving up quality pharmaceutical care, friendly service, and operating an iconic soda fountain that offers old school charm.

“My grandfather first opened the store--which was located in the building right next door to the west--back in 1916,” said Nic Harrel III, the current owner of the business. “He was a bookkeeper in Louisiana. He wanted to marry my grandmother, and sought permission from her father, Mr. John Nolan who lived here in Kingsville.

“He wrote a letter to her dad, asking for her hand. He promised he could provide for her. Her Dad responded by saying there were great opportunities here in Kingsville, and gave my grandfather his permission to marry his daughter.

“Well, they got married, moved to Kingsville, and he ended up buying a pharmacy business.”

The business he bought was Wakeman Drug, but Nic Sr. changed the name to Harrel Drug.

In the Twenties and Thirties, the pharmacy added a soda fountain at the front of the business overlooking Kleberg Street. It quickly became a popular breakfast and lunch spot. In fact, Nic III says his grandfather was something of an innovator.

“I know that sometime in the Thirties, he offered pick-up service,” Harrel laughed. “He was doing it long before all this (COVID-19) started. He saved the parking spaces in front of the pharmacy, and people would drive up and flash their lights in the business. Someone would come out, take their order, deliver it, and off the car would go.”

In the 1940s, Nic Harrel Jr. and his brother John Nolan Harrel joined the business. Nic Jr. was a graduate of the University of Texas--Austin and met his wife Claudia there. Claudia Van Blucher was her maiden name, and she came from a very prominent family in Corpus Christi. Nic Sr. still ran the business, but Nic Jr. and his brother John worked at the business for decades. Over the years, the elder Harrel owned seven different pharmacies in south Texas, keeping many of them open at the same time (although not all at once).

While the Harrel’s were earning their living, there were two other pharmacies operating in the downtown area. One was the Kingsville Pharmacy, and the other was Rangel Pharmacy.

After Nic Jr. and John started taking over more of the management of the business, the soda fountain was moved to the back of the original location and the business prospered. Nic Sr. started to slow down, but still worked part time until late in his life.

In the 1950s, Nic III was born, and he attended H.M. King High School, where he graduated in 1970. Nic says for fun he would fish and hunt and ride bikes. As he got older, he told his dad he wanted a car.

“Well, you’ll have to get a job if you want a car,” Nic Jr. told his son. So he found one, working at Dunham’s Music Mart selling 45’s for .99 and LP’s for 3.99. 

“Eventually, I saved up enough to buy a 1959 Impala,” Nic said proudly. “Those were really big cars!  We use to cruise town, and we’d switch off between going to C and M Drive-in and Skee’s. It was where everybody hung out.”

After graduating, Nic headed off to Texas Tech to do his undergraduate work.

“My sister Claudia went to Tech because she was chasing her high school boyfriend there--or something like that,” Nic laughed. “Anyhow, she came to me one day and said ‘You’re going to be in Kingsville all your life. You need to get out and see the world’.”

Nic went off to Texas Tech, spending three years there while he earned enough credits to get into Pharmacy School. After three years, he applied and was accepted at UT-Austin in 1973.

There he earned he got his pharmacy degree and met his first wife Laurie at UT-Austin in 1975. They got married, and after he got his degree, they moved back to Kingsville. Nic went to work for his dad and uncle, and has been there ever since.

“Dad bought out my uncle John just a few days before he passed,” Nic said. “When my dad passed away in 1981, I took over ownership of the pharmacy.”

In 1990, Nic bought out the Kingsville Pharmacy and renamed it Harrel’s Kingsville Pharmacy. The new acquisition was located east of Harrel’s store on Kleberg street, and he wound up using that building for the pharmacy while the original Harrel’s building contained the soda fountain and other goods.

“Laurie got real sick of making the walk between the two stores,” Nic recalled with the big grin he is famous for. “The owner of the business next door had been after me to buy his building, so when he retired, Laurie ‘encouraged’ me to buy the building. So I did, and we remodeled that and closed the other two stores--which we still own.” Not long after the remodeling of the new location, Nic and Laurie went their separate ways, having had a son named, well, you just knew it had to be Nic IV.

In 2000, Nic bought out Minnie Rangel’s pharmacy when she retired, making him the only pharmacist left downtown. It was about this time the single Mr. Harrel met his current wife Joni. The rest is history.

“I love Kingsville, and I always have,” Harrel said. “This is a great place to live. I’ve made so many friendships over the past 40 years why would I ever want to leave?

“This is a good town to do business in. It has an available workforce for just about any kind of business or commercial venture, the people are friendly here and will do anything to help one another out, and I think the small-town charm close to big city opportunities is the ideal place to do business.

“I’ve actually been lucky enough to have served five different generations of families here in Kingsville,” Harrel said.”I get to tell the grandchildren what their grandparents were like when they were younger,” he laughed. “You can’t do that anywhere else, can you? This has so much charm I think lots of different businesses would like to be here once they discover us.”

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