Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Art and Commerce at Sav-More Drugstore

Rich Frost remembers when Flint drugstores doubled as artist's studios...

When it comes to drug stores in Flint, Sav-More could not compare to any Herrlich’s or Cook’s Drug Store, especially their downtown Flint locations. Sav-More was on Second Street across from the Capitol Theater in the building that was later to house Grandmother’s Kitchen. It was a little bigger than a shoe box, but that’s not to say that its didn’t have a lot to offer customers.

There was a period after my parents divorced that my mom worked as a short-order cook at the restaurant in the Greyhound bus station nearby. Occasionally, I would hang around the bus station while she worked and we’d go home together.

Well, one day we noticed something different in the window at the Sav-More. An artist by the name of Jesse Fowler sat in the window doing chalk portraits of people for something like five bucks. It was 1964. I was ten years old at the time and the odds are pretty good that my mother and I only shopped at the Sav-More because it was near the stop where we’d catch the Franklin Avenue bus home.

At that time in my mother’s life, $5 was a pretty decent hunk of change, especially for a woman working a minimum-wage job and raising two kids on her own. But she wanted an artist rendering of her youngest child and she was willing to part with the five bucks to get it.

For about a half hour, I sat in the front window of this drugstore with people looking on as Mr. Fowler sketched out my portrait. I still have it today and I sometimes wonder how many other people had their portrait sketched my Mr. Fowler in the window at Sav-More drugs in downtown Flint.


  1. Rich, your post floored me. I believe I was working the cash register at SAV-MOR (no "e") when Jesse Fowler was drawing portraits there. The name immediately brought back memories. I'm not sure how long he operated out of the store as I was there only one week. I had worked eight monthes at the Flushing Road SAV-MOR store when the manager, who had it in for me, had me transferred to the downtown branch for what I always believed was punishment. It was already becomming a tough downtown area even in 1964 but nothing like it would be in times to come. I was there only a week when the store detective caught a shop lifter. The guy was grabbed in front of my register. He pulled out a big swichblade, and said he would kill anyone who moved. He ran out the door while everyone else froze in place. I resigned the next day and went job hunting until I landed a job at Yankee Stores.

  2. I first met Rich when we both worked at WTAC in 1986..we could tell some stories about that..and we've been fast friends ever since even though we are separated by 800 miles or so. Rich has great stories of the city we both love and I am envious of his memory. I honestly can't recall the Sav-More downtown even though I must have walked past it hundreds of times. Perhaps I was too focused on the Big Boy resturant around the corner on Harrison Street. Another enjoyable read Richie!

  3. I and my three siblings all have Jesse Fowler portraits sketched in chalk. I recall that the portraits were done in a drug store in the Clio-Pierson area. I also recall us all having silhouettes done in a drug store.

  4. I just had my mom's "Jesse Fowler" chalk portrait professionally framed. It was done in 1967. I ran across it going through her things (she recently passed away)and was quite amazed that the drawing was hardly smudged after all of these years being that it had never been framed! I am hoping to find out more about this artist. Any info would be greatly appreciated!
    I also have a near mint Hamady Sack!

  5. I had a chalk drawing done of myself by Jesse Fowler in 1970. The artist had a booth set up in the middle of the Lansing Mall, Lansing, Michigan. It took him no more than 15 minutes to complete the $5 chalk drawing (black, white and shades of gray chalk on a piece of artist paper that was approximately 14" by 18" tall. I believe it may have been a bit bigger, but we cut it down to fit a frame. I still have it...it hangs in our bedroom.

    Does anyone have any info on Jesse Fowler? Just curious. Please respond to Barbhammond2009@hotmail.com.

  6. My mom had a chalk portrait of me done in 1974 at the Fasion Square Mall in Saginaw, I was 10 years old--50 now. Good memories!!

  7. My Mom had a black and white chalk done of me at the Lansing Mall by Jesse Fowler, must have been around the same time (70’s). He was amazing, swift and skilled. People
    comment on its accuracy all the time. One of the few things I took from my parents home this past year when they needed to move
    To Assisted Living. Happy times.

  8. Jesse Fowler did a wonderful chalk portrait of my husband at the Michigan State Fair in 1980. I had it framed and it’s still hanging in our upstairs hallway. I’d also like to know more about Mr. Fowler.
    Pam Thompson pthompson961@gmail.com


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.