& Area Guide
Who was Doc Webb?
By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000
But by the age of 20, he had transformed himself into such an entrepreneur of patent medicines, he was known as Doc Webb, the nickname he'd keep through the rest of his long life.
A business offer -- and a big blue car he bought from World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker -- brought him to Florida in 1925, just before the land boom went bust. No matter. He took over a 17- by 28-foot store at 128 Ninth St. S and grandly named it Webb's Cut Rate Drug Co. Even through the Depression, Webb thrived. He promoted himself as a friend to the little guy and proved it with price-cutting strategies that had other merchants tearing at their hair and even landed Webb in court on occasion.
But it wasn't just the variety, the deep discounts and the easy credit that would eventually send 60,000 customers a day flocking to "the World's Most Unusual Drug Store."
For at Webb's City, the fun never stopped. Whether your tastes ran to bathing beauties, talking mermaids, dancing chickens, circus acts or the 9-cent ice cream cones sold on the way out to the parking lot, Doc Webb had it all.
For all his retail razzle-dazzle, Webb's private life was pretty routine. Even into his 70s, he put in 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. work days, interrupted by thrice-weekly tennis matches. He and his wife, Aretta, lived in a colonial-style house in the Allendale section of town. In later years, he ran the business from the blue-and-white dinette just off the kitchen.
Sartorially, however, he could make a statement. Webb admitted that some of his 100 suits and 50 sport jackets made Liberace's getups pale by comparison. Fortune magazine attributed the 5-foot-5 Webb's "propensity for ostentation to a feeling of inferiority because of his small size."
Webb's City may have been one of the first shopping malls, but it wouldn't be alone for long. And even "the World's Most Unusual Drug Store" couldn't compete with the new suburban malls springing up outside the old downtown. Webb sold the business in 1974, an event that a Times editorial dubbed "a most significant event in the history of St. Petersburg."
By 1979 the business went bankrupt and closed, and the area it occupied suffered. On the day Webb died in 1982, the city sold a piece of what had been Webb's land to a developer. Wrote the Evening Independent, "May it (the sale) begin a new era of prosperity in a location that knew plenty of success, Doc Webb-style."
Information from Times files and St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream by Raymond Arsenault was used in this report.