A New York Drugstore Almost as Storied because the Metropolis Itself

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In this sequence for T, the writer Reggie Nadelson revisits New York establishments which have outlined cool for many years, from time-honored eating places to unsung dives.

By the point Alec Ginsburg was 5, he knew he wished to work at his father’s drugstore. “It wasn’t a choice, I simply knew,” says Ginsburg, 29, who, alongside along with his father, Ian Ginsburg, is now the co-owner of C.O. Bigelow in Greenwich Village. “I noticed how he cherished his work far more than my associates’ dad and mom preferred theirs,” Alec remembers. “He’d come residence and inform me how he had met Lou Reed or David Bowie. My dad was just like the mayor of Greenwich Village, and I believed, How cool!”

Each father and son are obsessed with music. Ian, 58, remembers working on the retailer as an adolescent with his father again when it nonetheless had a lunch counter. Musicians recording at Electrical Woman Studios on West eighth Avenue typically got here by or referred to as in for lunch. And Ian was blissful to ship. “After I figured there was an opportunity I’d meet Jimi Hendrix, I believed I’d simply lose it,” he remembers. “I used to be so excited.”

Lots of the coolest locations — cool being a sophisticated idea — in New York are run by second-, third- or fourth-generation households. That is what provides them their type, their character, the sensation that they’re essential to the town and even their humorousness. Inside Bigelow, from a small balcony in the back of the store ground, a half-scale material mannequin of Anthony Fauci — white hair, masks and all — made by Amy Henry, a set and manufacturing designer and a good friend of the Ginsburgs’, has saved a benign eye on the shop for the previous few months. As a result of, in fact, Bigelow has stayed open via the pandemic — simply because it did within the aftermath of Sept. 11, and thru Superstorm Sandy and New York’s huge blackouts, when its nice brass gasoline chandeliers (nonetheless there however now electrical) had been put to good use.

The shop, on Sixth Avenue between West eighth and ninth Streets, is within the very heart of Greenwich Village. And its landmark inside, which dates to 1902, is splendidly preserved, with its authentic tiled ground and oak cabinets. On the entrance of the house are glass-fronted counters the place a stunning array of seductive items is saved: skin-care merchandise from France, fragrances from Barcelona, sparkly hair bands, badger-hair shaving brushes and Bigelow’s personal proprietary lotions and potions. After I go in to choose up hand sanitizer or Advil, I have a tendency to come back out with a basket filled with delights which may embody lavender-and-peppermint cleaning soap or a Tuscan fig candle. For the actually hard-to-please, there are tablet bottles wrapped in repurposed monogrammed Louis Vuitton canvas by the artist Sarah Coleman. However you too can discover Pond’s Chilly Cream and Alka-Seltzer.

In the back of the shop is the pharmacy, which has a extra communal, convivial spirit than your common Walgreens, with many long-term patrons stopping in for his or her medicines and nutritional vitamins, and staying to speak or get recommendation. In a way, that is the center of Bigelow. Alec can lookup on the wall right here and see the pharmacy licenses issued to his grandfather Jerry and his great-grandfather William, who purchased Bigelow in 1939. “Earlier than he joined the household enterprise, my father was a band chief within the late ’40s and early ’50s,” Ian says of Jerry, who carried out within the Catskills one summer time with Mel Brooks as his drummer. “He undoubtedly wished a profession in music. However his father, a strict Jap European orthodox Jew, didn’t suppose it was a career.”

As of late, it’s Alec who oversees a lot of the shop’s each day operations. From the age of seven, he spent his spare time stocking cabinets and wrapping items within the store, and he all the time cherished the concept of the shop, however Ian advised him he’d must qualify as a pharmacist earlier than approaching full-time. And so, he spent seven years incomes a B.S. in addition to superior pharmacy levels on the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, finishing his research in 2016. “It labored out rather well,” Ian says. “Alec was the one one in all my youngsters who wished to work right here — however all my youngsters are sensible at arithmetic.” (Alec has two siblings: a brother, Reed, who works at SpaceX in Los Angeles, and a sister, Wendy, who works at a London financial institution.) In January, Alec arrange the shop’s Covid-19 vaccination program and he typically administers the photographs himself. However in the case of routine medicines, he isn’t above making bespoke flavors for his prospects. “Youngsters like grape and watermelon,” he says. “Cats go for tuna and hen, whereas canines are loopy for bacon.”

I’ve been visiting Bigelow for the reason that late ’50s, when my mom would take me for Louis Sherry ice cream on the soda fountain (it was eliminated in 1984). However the retailer’s historical past, in fact, goes again a lot additional. Lighting up the facade is a neon signal that asserts the 12 months — 1838 — wherein a Vermont physician, Galen Hunter, opened the Village Apothecary Shoppe a couple of doorways down from the shop’s present location. Clarence Otis Bigelow, who had labored for Hunter, purchased the store in 1880, renamed it C.O. Bigelow and moved it to its current deal with in 1902.

In New York, the nook drugstore has all the time been the place you go together with a scraped knee or a swollen wrist. And Bigelow is a sanctuary for the mildly injured and people in want of steerage from a kindly pharmacist. Over the a long time, all types of Greenwich Village denizens have stopped by: Mark Twain, who lived on West tenth Avenue in 1901; Eleanor Roosevelt, who leased an house on Washington Sq. West within the Nineteen Forties; the New York Dolls; the artist Frank Stella; and the lawyer William Kunstler, who defended the Chicago 7 in 1969 and ate lunch at Bigelow daily.

Ian took over the shop in 1985. Like his father, he had thought-about a profession in music — as a drummer — however as a substitute he turned Bigelow into his artwork type. “I knew we couldn’t compete with the large drugstore chains,” he remembers. “So I believed we’d make this a feel-good expertise, just like the European apothecaries I’ve all the time cherished.”

Since then, he has since established partnerships with the Florence-based toothpaste model Marvis, the scent firm Carthusia in Capri, and the Turkish rose water producer Gulsha. He shares merchandise which can be typically laborious to seek out elsewhere in New York. “I like that these firms are all multigenerational like us, and that they’ve historical past,” he says. It’s not shocking, then, that Ian has preserved an astonishing archive of the shop’s data and ephemera, a few of which he retains in his workplace on the constructing’s third ground.

The house is full of relics from Bigelow’s previous: prescription pads yellow with age, ceramic apothecary jars and outdated vials and powder tins — containers from an age when chemists bought cocaine eye drops and heroin to suppress coughs. (It’s rumored the shop additionally bought liquor throughout Prohibition.) Ian exhibits me a small bottle of lime tonol — a snake oil of its time, thought to remedy all the things from weak ankles to epilepsy and yawning — with a Star of David clearly stamped on it. “It’s from E. Schering, a Berlin pharmacy,” he explains. “It was partially Jewish-owned and by early 1938, Nazi officers outlined a Jewish agency as one which contained anybody of Jewish or combined ancestry in senior positions.”

“You may see right here that there have been recipes on the identical web page for decent fudge, espresso syrup and suppositories,” he says, whereas opening one of many a whole lot of timeworn ledgers. Occasionally, the corporate will excavate an outdated recipe from its archive and reintroduce it with some modifications. The model’s hand cream, for instance, which debuted in its present type in 2003 and is made with lemon oil and extracts in addition to shea butter and kukui nut oil, is predicated on a lotion first launched in 1870.

Again on the primary ground, Ian waves to Alec, who’s working at his desk on the balcony overlooking the shop, and remembers his personal early years there when he would trip up and down in an outdated dumbwaiter, which has since been boarded up.

It’s true that Bigelow has seen its justifiable share of the great and nice, the well-known and notorious. And it’s true that the shop sells uncommon and marvelous toiletries. However as Dolce Gonzalez, one in all Bigelow’s pharmacy assistants, says, maybe what defines the place most of all is that “there’s a heat and magic within the retailer.” A lot of her family, together with her sisters and children, have labored at Bigelow over the previous twenty years. “It’s very household,” she says. “Ian treats everybody so nicely. The minute I walked in, I fell in love with it.” She began on June 1, 1999, and shortly after met Eddie Gonzalez, the constructing supervisor. Six months later, they had been married.

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