Rogers Corner Era

Ratcliffs buy Rogers Corner,
plan to rebuild soda fountain

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (April 2000) – If you've grown up in the Madison area or lived here very long, chances are you've had a soda or milk shake at Rogers Corner at one time or another.
Years ago, the drug store on the corner of Main and West streets was the hot spot in downtown Madison. And for some loyal breakfast and lunch customers, it still is.

Rogers Diner

Photo by Phaedra Jones

The inside of Rogers Drug Store
in its heydey under the Schmidts.

But the days of stopping in for a soft drink or ice cream treat prior to taking in movie at the historic Ohio Theatre, two doors down, will soon return with the March purchase of Rogers by Ohio Theatre owners Tony and Laura Ratcliff. The Ratcliffs bought the three-story building and the business from a local family corporation and closed on the property March 22.
The couple, who only four years ago bought and renovated the theatre, have now turned their attention to Rogers and are planning some tie-in marketing efforts to their regular showings of family movies.
"We've wanted to buy Rogers Corner for quite a while, but when the family put it up for sale four years ago, we had just bought the theatre, so we weren't ready," said Laura, who for much of last year also operated the Main Street Sweet Shop in the Trolley Barn Shops. It closed on Dec. 31.
"I'm delighted the Ratcliffs have bought it," said Bernadette Wickersham, who has managed the business for six years. "I think they have the youthful enthusiasm it will take to keep it going and expand it further."
Many locals may recall longtime owner and pharmacist Judson A. Schmidt working behind the counter at Rogers Corner. After attending pharmacy school and serving four years in World War II, Schmidt came home to work for his father, Judson W. Schmidt, who owned and operated Rogers Corner at the time. When his father died in 1952, the younger Schmidt took it over and operated the business until his own death in 1992.
Rogers Drug Store has a long history, dating back to the mid-1800s. W.H. Rogers founded Rogers Drug Store around 1847 at 210-212 W. Main St. It prospered as the primary drug center for the community.
When Rogers died in 1901, his son, W.G. Rogers, took over the business. He failed to expand the drug store, but he developed a hand cream, from which the sales helped put the business back on its feet. In 1908, he bought from the Hargan family the building at 101 E. Main St., site of the current Rogers Corner.
The younger Rogers left for New York a few years later, leaving the management of the drug store to others. One of those managers was Judson W. Schmidt. Rogers returned in 1931 upon the death of his mother to take over the store. Schmidt, meanwhile, opened his own pharmacy on the corner of Main and Broadway (site of the former Koehler building). Eventually, he moved his pharmacy directly across from Rogers.
Two years later, Rogers went bankrupt and Margaret Leonard bought the business. She had worked with her sister, Anna, and her husband, William H. Peters, at Peters Drug Store. But Leonard only owned the drug store for one year, selling to Judson W. Schmidt in 1936.
During the 40 years under his ownership, the younger Schmidt expanded Rogers Corner to include a variety of household items, gifts, cards and more. In 1964, the Schmidts extensively remodeled the drug store and installed expensive glass cases to display their wares. In time, Rogers Corner became a popular spot before and after the movies, and later, the soda fountain developed as a popular hangout for teenagers.
Schmidt died in 1992. His widow, Mary Jane Schmidt, still resides in Madison. The family trust sold the building and business in 1994. The new owners upgraded Rogers Corner by putting down new flooring and removing some of the old drug store shelves.
"It really opened up the place and let more light in," said Wickersham.
The second floor of Rogers Corner has two rented apartments. The third floor is a large open room "with unlimited possibilities," Laura said.
The Ratcliffs say they will not change the name, Rogers Corner, but they do have some changes in store.
Their immediate plans are to rebuild the popular fountain counter in the middle of the store and expand the hours into the evening so families can stop to eat dinner at the grill prior to watching a movie. They also plan to make the business a non-smoking atmosphere.
"If it all goes well with expanded hours to about seven, we may open even later in the summer so people can come after the show for ice cream," said Tony, a northern Kentucky native whose family has operated drive-in theaters.
Laura said she wants to also increase the amount of tourist merchandise in the store area to include T-shirts, sweatshirts and other items related to Madison.
"We want to appeal more to tourists with anything that says Madison on it," she said. "We also hope the later hours will bring in more locals and their families."
The new smoking ban may not appeal to some of Rogers Corner's regular customers, but the Ratcliffs believe it is a necessary move to attract families.
One thing they promise not to change, however, is the 91-year-old potato salad recipe.
"The potato salad recipe will stay," Laura said.

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