Hazel Brown began hanging out at Green Valley when she was 8 years old.
“I was a motherless and fatherless child, raised by a grandmother who was very ill and could not afford medicine for her sugar diabetes, her high blood pressure or her ulcers,” said Brown, 62.
Muse hired her brother and told her that “my future was being built right then.” When she became pregnant and dropped out of high school, Muse encouraged her to go back to school, and she eventually graduated from college. She now volunteers at the pharmacy.
Joseph Crouch, a Vietnam veteran, said that before he was shipped overseas, Muse called him in and told him to hold his head up and trust in God. “We had a lot of troubled men in the Valley. Doc saved a lot of them, because he reached out and talked to them and slowed them down. I’m one of them,” Crouch said.
Youngsters who attempted to shoplift found themselves in a heart-to-heart talk with Muse, who tried to set them on the straight-and-narrow path.
“He was here when nobody else was,” said Florence Puryear, who said she would often wait outside the store until he opened it at 7 a.m.
“He’s the godfather of Green Valley. It don’t matter if you are white or pink or black or blue . . . and as much trouble as we bring him, he’s still standing.”
Neighborhood in his corner
The store, at the corner of Shirlington Road and 24th Road South, is in the heart of Nauck, which has been home to African Americans since the mid-1800s.
In the 1960s, drug dealers moved onto the corner, and Muse said police suspected him of being involved. They bugged his store, he believes, and the pay phone outside — even though Muse was the one who often called police.
He recalled a time when authorities suggested that he was selling beer to underage drinkers and nonprescription medicine to addicts who used them to create illegal substances.
“I put everything behind the counter,” Muse said. “I changed how I sold them. I said, ‘You’re not going to run me away.’ I said, ‘I’ll sit right here until you take me out heels-first.’ ”
He laughed, pleased at the memory.
Another time, police raided his drugstore and lunch counter and “put their hands in the food, looking for I don’t know what,” he said.
It’s hard for him to let go of that deep-rooted suspicion of police, even as neighbors such as Brown reassure him that the authorities are now on his side.
“But you know, all of us can change — even Dr. Muse at nearly 90 years old,” she said.
Despite those difficulties, the neighborhood has been solidly in his corner. The hungry can get a free meal at the lunch counter every Wednesday afternoon.
Everyone, from the down-and-out to the up-and-comers, is treated with dignity. His prices are fair, and the elderly or struggling could get the essentials “on the tick,” the local colloquial for running a tab.
His store has never been robbed. There have been few break-ins, including an attempt by a group of ne’er-do-wells to steal an ATM. But residents say the word on the street is not to bother Doc.
Muse nodded in recognition, having heard tales of former neighbors and customers who now live all over the world.
“I have been through segregation, integration and revitalization, and I am still here,” he said.
Then he turned away. Another customer needed his help.