Vintage Rye: Rye Beach Pharmacy, 70 Years Young
Rye Beach Pharmacy, some 70 plus years ago, was a drug store with a lunch counter that only opened during the summer months, thus referred to by the locals as “the summer pharmacy.”
By Karen T. Butler
Rye Beach Pharmacy, some 70 plus years ago, was a drug store with a lunch counter that only opened during the summer months, thus referred to by the locals as “the summer pharmacy.” It was housed in a stucco building that hugged Forest Avenue on the same property used today for the pharmacy. A host of other drugstores: McCullough’s, Village Pharmacy, Rye Chemist, Arnold’s, Biltmore Pharmacy, simultaneously served Rye, but were located in the village on Purchase Street and open on a year-round basis.
Rye Beach was a very popular spot with folks coming from near and far during the summer, often renting beach bungalows. Today, only a few of these bungalows remain. Rye folks living near the beach often rented single rooms to the “beach crowd.” Rye’s close proximity to the city added to its popularity since folks in that era did not travel long distances for vacation.
The year was 1946. The family story goes that Daniel and Marie Giaquinto came to Rye Beach that summer for a two-week vacation bringing with them their two young sons, Robert and Dennis. They rented one room in a house on Forest Avenue so they could enjoy the beach. The Giaquintos particularly liked “the wading beach” behind Playland, just north of the Playland Pier, for picnicking. Swimming was not allowed there because the area under the water was and is too rocky, but it was their favorite and lovely tranquil spot. Today, although still there; it is hardly frequented.
Daniel, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Pharmacy worked as a chemist and pharmacist on Long Island. Marie was a graduate of Pratt Institute of Design. Daniel grew up in Connecticut; Marie in Brooklyn. They were first-generation Americans, both sets of parents having migrated from Italy. Marie and Daniel were introduced to each other by family members, a prevailing tradition of the day.
One fortuitous day that summer of ’46, Daniel entered the summer pharmacy to use the pay phone. The phone line was busy so he hung around the drugstore waiting to make the call a second time. While waiting, a female customer came into the pharmacy urgently needing to fill a prescription. The woman working behind the counter said the pharmacist was not there at the time. Daniel, realizing the woman had an emergency said to both the customer and the pharmacy clerk, “I am a pharmacist; maybe I can help you.” Daniel helped the customer get her prescription and she left happy.
After the customer departed, the clerk said to Daniel: “You are such a nice young man; maybe you should buy this pharmacy. It is for sale you know.” And shortly thereafter, that is exactly what happened. Making soda fountain drinks and freshly made sandwiches was a large part of the business in the beginning. But, together, the Giaquintos gradually enlarged the pharmacy business, opening year round, and dedicating themselves to giving superb customer service.
Marie was the one who kept things running smoothly. Daniel was the innovative businessman. They made a great team.
The Giaquinto’s first home in Rye was a large one-room apartment in a multi-family house. Multi-family homes were common at the time because few new homes were built during the Depression and the war years and housing was virtually unavailable after World War II.
They later moved to Ridgewood Manor, not far from the pharmacy. Bob remembers his father always coming home for dinner, but without fail returning to the pharmacy to ready himself for the next day’s business. Every week his father worked six-and-a-half long days.
Over the years, the pharmacy became a very successful enterprise. Because of his never-ending willingness to help people get well, Daniel became affectionately known to his customers as “Doc Giaquinto” and the name stuck.
When they grew up, sons Robert and Dennis decided to follow in their father’s footsteps, graduating from the School of Pharmacy of what is now SUNY Buffalo in ’63 and ’66 respectively. The boys enthusiastically joined the family business bringing new and progressive ideas like a “patient profile system.”
In 1965, disaster struck; a big fire consumed two-thirds of their building. Fortunately, Rye Beach Pharmacy sustained only excessive water damage and with some repair was readily fit to reopen. That was not the case for the Stagshead Bar, owned by Joe Maviglia who also ran the famed Square Tavern in Port Chester and the dry cleaning business; both were totally destroyed by the fire.
After the fire, a court case interpreted whether or not the Giaquinto’s lease for the pharmacy was in full force. The building owner, George Neufeld, who also owned George’s Market (which became Butler Bros. and today is Playland Market) argued that fire had destroyed too much of the building and the lease was null and void. Fortunately, the Giaquintos prevailed and the court upheld their lease.
Bob and Dennis soon gained the respect of George Nuefeld because they were so hard working, and he just plain liked them. In 1967, Nuefeld approached them to see if they had an interest in purchasing the building. They did. Looking back, Bob sees that as the most fortuitous event for the sustainability of Rye Beach Pharmacy, and for that he has unending gratitude.
Over the years, the boys tried to get permission to completely rebuild the building from scratch, but to no avail. Finally in 1972, with the help of Frank McCullough Jr., their attorney, the City of Rye approved the construction of their new building.
They moved into the new building in November 1974. The old one, which stood where the parking lot is today, was then torn down. Amazingly, Rye Beach Pharmacy never lost a day of business.
The new two-story edifice allowed Bob and Dennis to expand their vision for the pharmacy. The two brothers felt confident they could make the business grow and be even more successful.
In the mid-Seventies, computers were in their infancy. Bob and Dennis purchased one of the early CRT computers to make their business more efficient and more fail-safe. Today, they use very sophisticated “bar code” technology.
They also realized a need to diversify in order to endure. In addition to being Rye’s neighborhood pharmacy, they moved into an area referred to in the pharmacy industry as “personalized medicine.” Simplistically, it is compounding medicine from scratch for very specific needs, all by doctor’s prescription. The specialized medicines are delivered all over Westchester County by the Pharmacy’s five delivery vehicles. Numerous compounded medicines are also shipped outside the area. The laboratories for creating these compounded medicines are very sophisticated and super-sterile, located on the second floor of their building.
The Giaquinto’s, when my children were young, lived two doors away from us. I watched their car pull out of their driveway early in the morning going to work and return well into the evening from work.
After many years of the Giaquinto brothers working together closely, Dennis and his family made the decision to move to Cape Cod in 1983. Bob, together with his sons, Kenny and Donald, continue to run Rye Beach Pharmacy with his daughter, Carrie, as a silent partner.
Doc Giaquinto had numerous mantras that he passed on to his sons. They in turn passed them on to their children who are at the helm today. “Take care of your customer” was one. Another was “You can’t sell from an empty wagon.”
Rye Beach Pharmacy is the only one of Rye’s independent drugstores to have survived and thrived. It’s safe to say they did a lot of things right over the last 70 years. Thanks to all the Giaquinto’s and their wonderful staff for serving Rye so loyally. We truly are lucky to have them.