Little Pharma, Big Heart
Bob GiaQuinto, center, with his son Ken at his right, and longtime staff
As told to Robin Jovanovich
Bob GiaQuinto has lived in six houses in Rye. His current one is on Redfield Street, which is a short walk to Oakland Beach and to Rye Beach Pharmacy, which his family has owned and operated since 1946. He’s not a beachgoer, but he does love living near the shore, and he’s fine with a short commute. Over breakfast at On the Way Café, which is on the other side of Playland Parkway, Bob shared his slice of Rye.
We vacationed at Playland and one summer day my father Dan, who was a pharmacist, made a phone call to the owner of what was then a summer-only pharmacy and asked to buy it.”
The pharmacy was at one end of what was then a strip mall, adjacent to a dry cleaner’s, which was next to the Stagshead Tavern. My parents worked hard to transform the pharmacy into a year-round operation.
In 1963, I graduated from SUNY Buffalo with a pharmacy degree, my younger brother Dennis was three years behind me. Our goal had long been to go to college, return to Rye, and see what we could do with the business.
But on a Sunday night in December 1965, shortly after I’d returned home from a weekend ski trip, I heard the sound of fire engine sirens, and the call number 4-3-4.
The fire destroyed the cleaners and the tavern. We never had flames, but our space suffered smoke and water damage and we couldn’t reopen until we’d repaired the damage and repainted.
We got all our records out and were able to fill prescriptions because a friend owned a pharmacy nearby.
Within a few weeks of the fire, my dad received a letter of eviction from the landlord, who planned to tear down the building. My dad hired lawyers who helped him successfully argue that since two-thirds of our space was not destroyed in the fire that we couldn’t be forced to vacate. Our family went back to work and paid the rent every month. The landlord never cashed the checks.
When Dennis graduated from college that summer and joined me, our father decided to take a pharmacist job with the county and he and our mom Marie divorced.
It was a stressful time and money was tight. Fortunately, we got the business of a Rye psychiatric facility, Halcyon Rest, and were suddenly on call and filling prescriptions. Then we got another big customer.
A year later, our landlord, George Neufeld, met with us and said, “I am going to do one of the best things that will ever happen to you and sell you the property”, which he did for $80,000 and held a $60,000 mortgage. The property included an old house behind the pharmacy, which we rented out for a time. Our mother helped us make the down payment. Mr. Neufeld then cashed all those rent checks. I was 27, Dennis was 24.
My brother and I had an ambitious plan: to build an entirely new building behind the pharmacy where the old homes sat. We hired a lawyer and a real estate professional to help us get the necessary re-zoning approval. But the City turned us down, so we focused on work and saving money and fortunately got another big customer, the Sarah Neuman Nursing Home.
By 1972, with the help of Dennis’ friend, attorney Frank McCullough Jr., we submitted a new site plan and received initial approval. What we didn’t have was a design we thought would stand the test of time or the Architectural Review Board. In fact, it was pretty unattractive and we’d only had a chance to get a glimpse of it minutes before our meeting with City officials. The City turned it down, and our architect quit the project.
Dennis and I decided to drive all over the County to get ideas for a building design we’d be proud of. We took photos and gave them to our new architect, Fred Keller.
The old house was razed, and the back of the pharmacy had to be chopped off for the plan to work. We wanted a large basement, but that would have meant weeks of rock blasting and we didn’t want to upset our neighbors.
Construction started in early 1974. It steadily progressed and was finished before Christmas. The building received the Builders Institute of Westchester Award for excellence in design and construction.
I stopped going to work every day before the pandemic. I miss the interaction with customers, but I’ve gotten into pickleball and go to the gym regularly. Once a month, I and 14 to 18 of my Rye High School classmates (class of 1958) meet over Zoom. There were lots of smart kids in my class who went on to distinguished careers.
I’m pleased that my son Ken has taken over the running of the pharmacy. Ken has made some changes. The upstairs compounding labs, which I started, are always busy, as is the front counter. He has nine full- and part-time pharmacists and five cars that are out all day delivering to customers in 20 communities.
I’m proud of the fact that I started selling nutritional products back in the ’70s. The impetus was George Hogben, a psychiatrist who is now retired but still lives here. He thought they would benefit his patients and he asked me to start stocking them.
We do more business than the Vitamin Shoppe!
We also fill prescriptions for cats; we make a gel that can be absorbed in their ears. Cats don’t like taking medications!
Bob said he was trying to write the story of the business to pass down to his grandchildren and future generations, all of whom he hopes will work at the pharmacy one day. I think this is a good first draft.