An iconic part of Transylvania County history is Varner’s Drug Store, which opened in December 1940 in the building that was at that time the Waltermire Hotel. Many now know that location as the Aethelwold building, encompassing Beverly Hanks Realty, Red Wolf Gallery, and Crystal Mountain Gem Mine. It’s remembered fondly by so many because of a secondary part of that business – the soda fountain—which was a community gathering place for decades, even after changing hands several times. The man who founded Varner’s Drug Store, Sebron Estes Varner, was a native of Buncombe County and moved to Brevard in 1933 when he was given a regional position with the IRS. When he retired in 1945, he, his wife Florence (formerly an Allison), and his two sons Sebron Edward “Eddie” Varner Jr. and Tom Varner went into business by opening the drug store. Sebron was well-known in the community and even served two terms as Mayor beginning in 1947 and ran for state senator in 1952. When he passed away in 1958, his son Eddie took on full ownership of the business in Brevard, and Tom moved to Florida to create his own successful drug store.
Varner’s was so popular that it quickly outgrew its original location and moved across the street to the corner of Broad and Jordan Streets in 1942. That building, originally erected in 1925, had been Mull Grocery, which was divided during the Great Depression so that half of the space could operate as a pool hall. The upper level was a plumbing supply company. When Varner’s moved into the space, grand reopening advertisements from 1942 indicate that they became a Walgreen affiliate. This was the equivalent of becoming a franchise owner for the Varner family, though they retained their local identity.
After World War II they expanded to the space next door, Mull Pool Hall, and with the expansion, new personnel came on board including partner Everett Norris and pharmacist Clyde J. Duvall. This expanded location is where Varner’s remained until the early 1990s, continuing to operate throughout the decades as a drug store and lunch counter complete with soda fountain. Eddie ran the business until his retirement in 1960 when Paul Owenby Jr. of Hendersonville bought the store, continuing to use the name “Varner’s.” Owenby ran the store until 1989 when he sold it to Ben and Sue Lamb. The ran the location as Varner’s until 1993 and continued the soda fountain for another year before selling the business and location to Dee Dee and Jimmy Perkins. In 1994 they started a gift shop called “D.D. Bullwinkel’s” with the adjacent space operating as the soda fountain, “Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop” – an homage to the moose and squirrel cartoon characters that those of a certain generation all remember. The business proved to be successful, and they expanded to a space around the corner that was singularly a shoe store known as “Moose Tracks” in 2006, occupying the same footprint as the other Perkins’ businesses, but with a front entrance on West Jordan Street.
Business continued to boom, and in 2017, D.D. Bullwinkel’s and Moose Tracks moved into a renovated space in the Trantham/Belk building and expanded their selection. Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop continues to operate in the Varner’s space, and the mercantile side of the original D.D. Bullwinkel’s next door became known as “Rocky’s Corner Market.” Newfound Artisan is currently in Moose Tracks’ original space. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.