The sign has been in La Plata's landscape since 1957: COUNTY DRUG in black and white '50s-era block letters topped by a white cone reading DRUGS.

The pharmacy is closed now, but Jon Johnson won't take the sign down.

"It's a bit of history," said Johnson, who lives in Port Tobacco. "It's a part of La Plata."

He bought the pharmacy on Charles Street from its original owner in 1992 but sold it seven years later to Anchor Pharmacy, a group that buys pharmacies to keep independent pharmacists such as Johnson in operation.

But in June, Johnson was given 72 hours' notice that the pharmacy -- some of whose customers had been going to County Drug for nearly 50 years -- had been sold to CVS. Only the building is still in his name.

Johnson misses the people, he said, more than the place. He knew many of the customers by name and often had their prescriptions ready before they came to the counter.

"Years ago, I decided that I didn't have customers," Johnson said. "I just filled prescriptions for friends."

Johnson still has a pharmacy in Waldorf, and nearly 20 percent of his La Plata customers have followed him there.

County Drug's white shelves have been stripped bare by CVS, except for shoe-fitting materials needed by former pharmacy manager Rhea Mosher as she runs a custom-molding shoe business out of the building.

"You can walk into anyone in La Plata, and they were a customer here," said Mosher, who put a divider in the store to make it look more full. "We had a homespun feeling about this place. Generations have come here."

Each day, she has to turn away former customers trying to fill prescriptions, she said.

In 1999, a group of pharmacists created Anchor Pharmacy to provide capital to keep "independent" pharmacies in operation, Johnson said. They saw it as a way to develop new pharmacists in an era when stores are too expensive for young pharmacists to buy.

"At the time I sold [County Drug], I was approaching 60, and I knew that no young pharmacist coming out of school would be able to afford to buy my pharmacy," he said. But Anchor's financial backer, the McKesson Corp., a drug wholesaler, cut funding for Anchor, so it sold some of its best pharmacies.

"He's a wonderful, great man," Betti Cordone, a La Plata resident who had been going to County Drug for 38 years, said of Johnson. "He still has my business up in Waldorf."

Johnson would have medicine delivered to people's homes. When customers put different medications in a bottle, he would sort through them and identify each pill. He even gave prescription drugs to customers who didn't have the cash at the time but promised to pay later.

With an independent pharmacy, "you can be a lot more tolerant," he said.

Johnson worked at his parents' pharmacy while growing up in North Dakota, on the fringe of an Indian reservation. When Johnson was 5, his father's death left his mother operating the pharmacy with hired pharmacists.

He went to North Dakota State University and planned to go to law school. But "I got the idea I couldn't be a pharmacist and a lawyer," he said.

As a pharmacist, Johnson could make people happy -- he called it the "people's profession."

"The idea is to make them feel better, and that's not just giving them medicine, it's talking to them," he said.

When he came to Southern Maryland in 1974, he said, Helen Lawlor of County Drug reminded him of his mother. Her husband's death left her to manage the pharmacy alone.

"I understood some of the problems she had," he said. So he bought the pharmacy in 1992, though he already owned the Waldorf pharmacy, which he bought in 1974, and was a partner at two others in Southern Maryland.

County Drug was the only independent pharmacy in La Plata, but its closing doesn't make Johnson worry about small businesses.

Johnson -- stifling a smile -- said he thinks someone will open another pharmacy in the next year. He declined to say who.

"It's a bit of history," says Jon Johnson, who ran La Plata's County Drug. The drugstore has been sold to CVS.