New Independent Upper West Side Pharmacy

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A local independent pharmacy offers an alternative to big chain stores

Mom and Pop Stores are still fighting the good fight on the Upper West Side. The new 79th Street Pharmacy, owned by business partners and pharmacists Keith Lewis and Larry Haas, opened up in January right off of Broadway and just one block over from a Duane Reade.

The Upper West Side is starting to get the reputation of a "big box community" with streets of chain stores. But the 79th Street Pharmacy does not even remotely resemble the Duane Reade down the block. The narrow store is lined with dark wood paneling and has wooden floors and potted plants placed strategically for feng shui. The shelves are stocked with basic beauty and soap products, but at the counter they carry old-fashioned candy sticks and lollipops. "If there was room," said owner Keith Lewis, "I would have milkshakes behind the counter too!"

But more important than an unusual appearance, said Keith Lewis, is their service.

"Everybody talks about customer service, but what it means here is you call up and you get a voice. You come in and we say hello," said Lewis. "I like to see people feel good."

Lewis said that there are certain products that they carry simply based on request. For instance, they started carrying one moisturizer brand because one customer asked for it. Another customer asked them to carry a specific type of European comb that takes 18 days to ship, and Lewis ordered it.

"We're going to make nothing off of it, but if customers will come in, that's okay," said Lewis. "People say 'can you carry this type of product so I don't have to go to Duane Reade? I say sure because I want them to keep coming back."

The 79th Street Pharmacy began as a longterm goal. Lewis and Haas met each other working as stockboys at a local pharmacy in Rockland County. From there, the two became friends and dreamed of one day owning a pharmacy together. Then one day last June, Haas received a call from a doctor who mentioned a storefront for sale by his office. A few months later, the doctor had moved his office, but Haas still called up Lewis and together they opened the 79th Street Pharmacy. The pharmacy is a family affair too: Lewis' wife Melanie helps out at the register, and Haas and his wife Marci designed the warm look of the storefront.

Even though they have only been open for a little over a month, Lewis said they already have repeat customers.

"I'm going to come here all the time now," said Adam Loparnos, from Bayridge, Brooklyn who had heard about the pharmacy through his doctor. "They carry my medications, and they're friendly. A lot of pharmacies won't even give you the time of day."

But it's not just about bringing in new customers. Melanie Lewis said that they really want to give back to the community, and cited the store's collaboration with three local schools. Every time a parent, teacher or student comes in from P.S. 452 on West 77th Street, P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, or P.S. 9 on West 84th Street, the pharmacy will give two dollars to their school for every new prescription, and one dollar for every refill. Plus they have a community bulletin board where they display local business cards and flyers.

In the future, Lewis said he hopes to add free quarterly clinics for blood pressure, nutrition and CPR classes. Both he and Haas hope to expand, and open more stores in other neighborhoods someday. But, they won't all look the same. Lewis said it is very important to structure and cater the store to the surrounding neighborhood.
"I know we will do well, I don't know why. I can just feel it," said Lewis.

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