“You can’t do those things anymore,” says Gary, describing the stranglehold the big chains have on indie drugstores. So intent on serving the whole neighborhood was he that Gary gave artists 10 percent off, and when certain locals asked him to sign a petition stating that Vincente “The Chin” Gigante, who lived on Sullivan Street, was an O.K. guy, he obliged.
Later on (Aretha is singing “Natural Woman” now), a young couple from Holland stops in. She’s had an emergency appendectomy and needs a prescription filled. Gary produces chairs. Jolie offers coffee. When they leave, the guy says, “This is just like home.”
“Call Gary,” everyone says if your kid’s got a sore throat or if, like a fool, you’ve tripped on the street and fallen flat on your face, as I had one winter day. More humiliated than hurt (the worst of falling, if you don’t die, is that so many people stop to help), I got up and high-tailed it to Thompson Street. Gary checked for a concussion and gave me an ice pack. Jolie produced arnica and ordered lunch.
Gary’s great-grandmother, a Yemenite Israeli, was a healer; the bronze mortar and pestle she used to make her potions sit on a shelf. Her daughter, Gary’s grandmother, always told him, “You’re born into this world to make things better, to help without expectation of anything.”
For real New Yorkers, born or naturalized, the local drugstore has always been vital. For me, as a kid, it was the Romanoff Pharmacy on the corner of 10th Street and University Place, near where I grew up. It’s a fancy gelato joint now, but once its window contained a thrillingly large cardboard Arpège bottle. Inside the shop were drugs, of course, but also a treasure trove of goodies: Revlon Fire and Ice nail polish, Breck shampoo, Whitman’s Samplers. The soda fountain served a very fine black and white.