By Tessa Raebeck
When you walk into CVS, Rite-Aid or Walgreens, no one knows your name. A store in New York looks the same as a store in Wisconsin or Georgia, just another link in the corporate chain.
Here in Sag Harbor, however, the local pharmacy is just that – local. At Sag Harbor Pharmacy, not only does the staff know their customers, they know their friends, family and favorite brand of hairspray, too.
“People like their local independent pharmacy,” says owner Barry Marcus, who runs the store with his wife Sue. “Where we know everybody by first name and we pride ourselves on being a friendly, independent pharmacy.”
The oldest pharmacy on Long Island – and likely in the state – Sag Harbor Pharmacy has been a staple in the village since 1859. Throughout its lifespan, it has operated out of its original building and in its same location, 120 Main Street.
Because it was put up before modern historic district regulations were enacted, Sag Harbor Pharmacy is allowed to keep the store’s neon sign, historic in its own right. Thanks to Marcus, it was recently illuminated for the first time in some 40 years.
“I’m probably the 20th owner of the store,” Marcus, who has owned the pharmacy for nearly thirteen years, said in between greeting regulars and filling prescriptions Thursday.
Although the previous 19 owners were good at serving Sag Harbor, they were not as good at cleaning up after themselves. Under direction from the fire marshal, Marcus committed to removing the clutter in his basement, “a monumental job” considering it had compiled over the course of 150 years.
Through the process, he found far more than clutter.
“These prescriptions are from the 1890s,” Marcus said, pointing to a large, weathered book with handwritten notes pasted into it.
Also forgotten in the basement were a dial telephone, a typewriter and a scale from 1933 that outlines, “How the average person gains and loses weight throughout twenty four hours.”
With help from his employees, Marcus sorted through the hidden artifacts in the pharmacy’s basement and arranged his favorite items in an historical display in the front window.
The store’s long, narrow layout, with the large display window in front and the pharmacy counter in back, has rarely changed. The only major alterations Marcus knows of are the removals of a large working fountain that was once in the middle of the store and a wet bar that stood near the front entrance. Customers came into the pharmacy, sat on a stool and enjoyed a soda pop while waiting to have their prescriptions filled.
In the front window is a photo of Mr. Reimann, who ran the store – at the time called Reimann’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain – with his family during the 1920s. At the wet bar, Mr. Reimann ran a community-wide game called the “popularity contest.” After purchasing an ice cream soda, customers could place a vote for anyone in the village. The person with the most votes after a period of time, i.e. the most popular, won the contest.
Another black and white photo Marcus found shows the storefronts of Main Street long before Reimann’s time, during the 1860s.
Also displayed in the window are several sets of mortar and pestle, although they’re not as antiquated as one would think.
“We even do compounding prescriptions,” Marcus said of his pharmacy. “That means that we use mortar and pestles, the old art and all that. So we mix things – and a lot of pharmacies don’t do that.”
Compounded prescriptions require a pharmacist to combine, mix or alter ingredients in order to create a unique medication tailored to an individual patient’s needs. When Marcus started in the business 53 years ago, half of all prescriptions were compounds. Today, most pharmacies refuse to fill them.
“Most pharmacies are big chains,” said Marcus, “but there’s still a handful [of independent pharmacies] on the East End.”
In addition to medicine, the Sag Harbor Pharmacy carries a wide variety of items in the front of the store, from “fancy pillboxes” to shampoo to dollhouses.
“Of course,” the lifelong pharmacist continued, “we do a larger summer business than we do in the wintertime – it drops off considerably. But this is a wonderful town, very supportive, and we love it. We love it out here.”