The day after his century-old St. Paul pharmacy was destroyed, Jim Stage and more than 30 employees watched tearfully as workers knocked down its charred remains.

It would be months before Stage — who'd owned Lloyd's Pharmacy since 2014 but grew up nearby and whose parents had shopped there — knew he would rebuild. It was the community, he said, that persuaded him to do it.

The community that came to board it up before it was torched during the unrest that followed George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer. The community that raised nearly $125,000 toward its resurrection. The community that had turned to Lloyd's time and again to soothe a sick child, treat an ill grandmother, ease coughs and colds and scrapes and burns since 1918.

That outpouring of support helped Lloyd's rise from its ashes. Though the pharmacist's appearance at a rally for former President Donald Trump last summer turned off some longtime customers, Lloyd's reopened last month and, Stage said, business is back to previous levels.

"This belongs right here," he said in a recent interview at his new pharmacy, built on the site of his old pharmacy. "The community supported us all through this. They encouraged us with words. They supported us financially. They prayed for us. And that pushed us."

Political divide

Still, not all of Lloyd's customers have stuck by Stage.

At an Aug. 17, 2020, appearance by the former president at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Stage spoke at Trump's invitation. His store had been looted for five hours before it was set ablaze, he said.

Then: "I appreciate the leadership, Mr. President, and the government leaders for anything they can do to uphold law and order in the neighborhood, in the community, so my customers, my employees will feel safe to work and to be about in that city."

TD Mischke, a local writer, musician, radio talk-show host and a Lloyd's customer for 20 years, said it was enough to turn him away from a business where he had always been treated well.

"In all other ways I thought the place was wonderful," Mischke said. "But standing next to [Trump], helping his re-election bid, that was something that I just could not overlook."

Yarrow Mead, a Lloyd's customer for five years, said Stage's support of Trump also caused her to leave. "I was very disappointed in the business' choice to align themselves with bigotry and anti-science rhetoric," she wrote in a direct message. "I can't trust a pharmacy that's anti-science."

Others, while not pleased, didn't share the outrage.

Joel Purcell, who wrote in a direct message that Lloyd's was "a daily childhood store when I was walking to and from school," gave money to a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild the pharmacy. While he would have put his money elsewhere had he known about Stage's support of Trump, he said, "I pretty much just rolled my eyes and moved on."

And Deb Shambo, an eight-year Lloyd's customer who said she's no Trump supporter, nonetheless took to social media to defend the pharmacy and its owner. Staff at the independent pharmacy, she said, have always been courteous and helpful. Its owner's politics shouldn't matter.

"I didn't see anything in his comments that indicated anything, other than he was thankful somebody was listening," she said. "He may have lost some customers, but he may have gained some, too."

Stage said he wasn't trying to be political. He'd gotten a call from the White House on a Sunday night, asking if he could meet the next morning. It wasn't until then that he learned he would be speaking to Trump.

"What I tell people is, 'I don't care who the president is — I would have gone to share the story of Lloyd's Pharmacy.' And that's the truth," Stage said. "This was an American talking to an American, the lead American, about something that happened in America. And that's simply what it is. This [opportunity] doesn't happen every day."

'A rebirth'

At Lloyd's grand reopening in July, Stage said he talked to St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, a DFLer, about the needs and hopes of area businesses.

"He and I learned a lot through all of this," said Stage, who lives in Roseville. "He has a city that is still kind of reeling, especially in [the Midway]. I hope [Lloyd's reopening] encourages other businesses. We have to have things like this happen in order to have a rebirth."

Chad Kulas, executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, said the success of longtime established businesses like Lloyd's are critical to vibrant communities. In the pharmacy's 103-year history, Stage is just its fourth owner.

"It was emotional for the community to watch it go up in flames," Kulas said. "Now to see it rise up again in the same spot is great."

Stage, who also owns Setzer Pharmacy on Rice Street — and transferred customers' prescriptions there before opening a temporary pharmacy as the new Lloyd's was finished — said the support his family received in the weeks following the razing of the original building persuaded him to go all in on the rebuild.

"I know the people in this community and I know they're good people," he said. "I think there is resiliency to the neighborhood and I think people like living here."

And in the end, Stage said, what makes a business beloved is much more than a building.

"If you lose your building, but have your people, you can do a lot with that," he said.