At Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy in Cobble Hill, It’s Personal

By January 22, 2016 144 comments Permalink

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The city can sometimes seem like a battlefield for chain pharmacies, where the last vestiges of vintage apothecaries can be found only in kitsch restaurants that open in former pharmacies. But actual mom-and-pop drugstores still exist, even in gentrified Brooklyn neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, where Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy has endured for the past decade.

On a recent afternoon, beyond the rows of standard drugstore offerings — beauty products, decongestants, greeting cards — a man consulted in Arabic at the back counter with one pharmacist as an older woman sought advice about prescriptions from another. A woman on her way to Israel that evening rushed in to stock up for the trip.

There was lots of chitchat and well-wishing: “Take care of yourself.” “Feel better.” “Safe travels.”

It felt a world away from the chain pharmacies that have opened in the neighborhood lately.

Those corporate competitors — a CVS two blocks up Court Street, a Rite Aid around the corner — have Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy beat in terms of square feet. But at Wyckoff’s, customers know the names of the pharmacists behind the counter: Bassam (Sam) Amin and John Capotorto. Both came from chain drugstores.

When Mr. Amin immigrated from the Middle East to Brooklyn in the 1980s, he found work in a neighborhood pharmacy in Bay Ridge. He came to admire the pharmacists and technicians, and how they counseled customers on issues of health and insurance.

After graduating from Long Island University with a degree in pharmacy science, Mr. Amin was hired by a chain pharmacy on Court Street. The corporate environment he entered was very different from what he had learned in Bay Ridge.

“I was dying to get out,” Mr. Amin, 52, said recently. “This was not how I was taught to practice pharmacy.”

Still, Mr. Amin did his best to approximate the personal feel of a small drugstore, and in 2006, a customer told him about an open storefront in Cobble Hill. That space would become Wyckoff’s Corner Pharmacy. Word spread among the customers he had served, including Loretta Attara, 60, a Cobble Hill native, who used her local standing and talkative nature to drum up business for the fledgling pharmacy. She even agreed to help run the business.

In 2012, the store moved to a larger space on the next block, and Mr. Amin recruited Mr. Capotorto, 59, who had worked for a chain pharmacy after shuttering his own Cobble Hill store.

Heather Burchyns, 41, has frequented Wyckoff’s since it opened. She has sought the advice of the pharmacists on everything from general wellness to help with her daughter’s Arabic classes. And then there is the unsolicited advice.

Recently, Ms. Burchyns came in with her 7-year-old daughter, Violet Canton, in search of a children’s painkiller for a pediatrician-diagnosed earache, which Mr. Capotorto questioned.

“I could tell by her face that Violet wasn’t herself,” Mr. Capotorto said recently. He suggested a return to the pediatrician, where a second investigation revealed a severe double ear infection.

“That’s what you get at Sam’s — people who know your story,” Ms. Burchyns said. “People who take the time to ask how you are and listen versus just ringing up your Children’s Motrin and calling it a day.”

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