The corner drug store isn’t what it used to be, although I’m not sure when it stopped. Probably quite a few years before I was born… although there are still a few hanging ’round. I’m talking about the drugstores that Norman Rockwell celebrated in his characteristic manner and Edward Hopper naturally managed to make seem quietly menacing in his. The alternative, on the other hand, are everywhere. In fact, there are 91,090 locations of mostly interchangeable and equally hellish CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. Sure, you’re suspicious of Big Pharma — so why would you ever set foot inside a Big Pharmacy?
When I was in college at the University of Iowa, in the 1990s, I used to go to Pearson’s more for the egg salad sandwiches and Green Rivers than anything else. To be honest, I probably never got a prescription filled there. Imagine a student getting medication in this healthcare system! Anyway, had I had the prescriptions, I imagine that the staff, with their flattops, black plastic-framed glasses, and old school uniforms, might’ve still filled orders for lysergic acid diethylamide or methaqualone if presented with them. It closed in 2002 and was replaced by a VHS & DVD rental store.
The classic drug store is a classic example of a third place (a “first place” being home and a “second place” being work)– similar to a bar, bookstores, blowing alley, café, church, club, donut shop, library, park, pool hall, post office, temples. A third place is a sort public space or semi-public space that serves as a de facto community center. A big box pharmacy chain, on the other hand, is a place seemingly designed to crush the customer’s soul — a sort of negative third place. I, for one, would rather spend an eternity in hell than two minutes inside of a Walgreens, I’d volunteer to receive the Ludovico Technique before going into a Rite Aid. And every time a CVS receipt is printed, an entire old-growth forest is reduced to pulp. So why, besides their ubiquity, do people patronize them? Do they enjoy being patronized by the sole employee, who emerges only when you encounter the inevitable issues with the self-checkout machines? Meanwhile, the CIA‘s enhanced interrogation playlists pipes through the tinny speakers overhead. Maybe you’re just a masochist and people have thus started to turn you away from the DMV since they know you have no business there.
Rexall is a name I mainly recognize because they sponsored lots of old-time radio comedies, like Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and which went out of business in 1977. It was a huge chain but one that franchised independently owned pharmacies. They began to decline in the late 1950s when they faced increased competition with Thrifty Drug and PayLess Drug which, merged to form Thrifty PayLess Holdings, which was acquired by Rite Aid in 1995 — which is why they still sell Thrifty ice cream. Ice cream or no, it’s hardly Peavey’s from The Great Gildersleeve, and it’s impossible to imagine willingly socializing with friends inside of one.
The most famous drugstore in Los Angeles, surely, was Schwab’s Pharmacy. In 1932, Bernard, Jack, Lena, Leon, Martin, and Yetta Schwab founded their drugstore at 8024 Sunset Boulevard. There’s an oft-repeated story that Lana Turner was discovered by director Mervyn LeRoy at Schwab’s. in fact, it was whilst hanging out at the Top Hat Cafe that the high schooler caught the eye of Hollywood Reporter publish William Wilkerson — but the story was believable because movie stars and filmmakers actually did hang out at Schwab’s. So, accordingly, did Hollywood gossip columnists such as Sidney Skolksy, who coined the nickname “Oscar” for the Academy Award and wrote his Photoplay column with the tagline “From a Stool at Schwab’s.” I suppose the unfathomable modern-day equivalent would be TMZ paparazzo lurking around an Alberton’s pharmacy hoping to find Tik-Tok‘s next influencer. Schwab’s appeared in the 1949 film My Dream is Yours, the 1950 film, Sunset Boulevard, the 1964 Jan & Dean song “Dead Man’s Curve,” and the 1965 Andy Griffith Show episode, “Taylors in Hollywood.” Nevertheless, it closed in 1983 and was demolished in 1988.
If it wasn’t obvious before, surely a few people were hipped by the COVID-19 pandemic to the fact that we, in the US, do not have the healthcare system we need and deserve (and afford). I’ll leave it to someone else to explain where corner drugstores might fit into a world with the sort of free universal healthcare they have in every single other developed country — and quite a few developing ones — but I hope that if we get universal healthcare here in California thanks to the passage of AB-1400 — that old school drugstores can flourish in Los Angeles alongside our botanicas, cannabis dispensaries, herbalists, &c.
Here is a directory of Los Angeles’s independent pharmacies and corner drugstores. I know that there are MANY more and, if you let me know of them in the comments, I will happily add them to this directory at my earliest convenience.
ABC PHARMACY OF BEVERLY HILLS
Alondra Pharmacy was established in 1976. It’s owned by Steve Hahn. Alondra Pharmacy is served by Metro‘s 128 Line and Norwalk Transit‘s 3 Line.
APPLE RX PHARMACY
Apple Rx Pharmacy was established in 2015. Apple Rx Pharmacy 2 was established in 2021. Apple Rx Pharmacy is served by Metro‘s 130 and 266 lines. Apple Rx Pharmacy 2 is served by Metro‘s 120 Line.
ARCADE LANE COMPOUNDING PHARMACY
Arcade Lane Compounding Pharmacy was founded by Dr. Gayane Besnelian in 2012. Arcade Lane Compounding Pharmacy is served by Pasadena Transit‘s 10 Line, Foothill Transit‘s 187 Line, and Metro‘s 686 Line.
Atlantic Drugs was founded in 2018 by Amitkumar Thakkar. Atlantic Drugs is served by Long Beach Transit‘s 61 Line.
AV PHARMACY PALMDALE
AV Pharmacy Palmdale was founded in 2007.
AVITA PHARMACY 1012
Avita Pharmacy 1012 was founded in 2015 by Thomas Lam. Avita Pharmacy 1012 is served by Foothill Transit‘s 178, 185, 281, and 488 lines.
B&G Pharmacy opened in 1980. The “B” is, most likely, for founder Bob Babikian. I don’t know what the “G” is for. It’s served by Metro‘s 180 and 217 lines.
BERRY & SWEENEY PHARMACY
Berry & Sweeney Pharmacy was founded in 1955. Berry & Sweeney Pharmacy is served by Pasadena Transit‘s 20, 31, and 32 lines; and Metro‘s 256, 660, and 662 lines.
BEST BUY DRUGS
Best Buy Drugs was founded in 1995. It’s owned by Paul Mensour. Best Buy Drugs is served by Metro‘s 268 and 487 lines.
BONITA FAMILY PHARMACY
Bonita Family Pharmacy was established in 2012 by Jonathan Aguilo. Bonta Family Pharmacy is served by Foothill Transit‘s 291 and 492 lines; and Metrolink‘s Pomona (North) Station.
BROADWAY REMEDY PHARMACY
Broadway Remedy Pharmacy is served by Metro‘s 94 and 501 lines; and Glendale Beeline‘s 5 Line.
Columbus Pharmacy was founded in 1968. I remember when I was looking for vestiges of Little Italy in Chinatown that I came across it but discovered that it opened decades after Little Italy had vanished. It’s served by LADOT‘s DASH Lincoln Heights/Chinatown Line and Metro‘s 45 Line.
DISCOUNT MEDICAL PHARMACY
Discount Medical Pharmacy is owned by Sorin Kazangian. It’s served by Metro‘s 182 Line.
DR. IKE’S PHARMACY
The “Dr. Ike” in Dr. Ike’s Pharmacy is Dr. Ayk Dzhragatspanyan. It’s served by Metro‘s 169 and 242 lines.
Eddie’s Pharmacy is named after the now-retired Eddie Bubar. Dr. Sepehr “Sam” Mansuri bought the pharmacy and retained the name. Eddie’s Pharmacy is served by Metro‘s 14 Line.
Ethical Drug is owned by Sue Jung. Ethical Drug is served by LADOT‘s DASH Hollywood/Wilshire Line and Metro‘s 14 Line.
FAIR OAKS PHARMACY
Fair Oaks Pharmacy is, it’s probably safe to say, the best-known pharmacy in Los Angeles County — and probably the most beloved. A lot of that love is down to the fact that Fair Oaks keeps it decidedly old school, stocking not just prescription drugs but old-fashioned tin toys, gag gifts, and novelties. There’s also, most importantly, a soda fountain where customers can get coffee, floats, ice cream, malts, phosphates, rickeys, and shakes.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy was founded in 1915 by Gertrude Osmond. It was bought by Ed and Zahra Shahniani in 2005. It’s served by Metro‘s 258, 260, and 660 lines.
Farmacia Ramírez has been serving the community since 1953. Its founder was Eddie Ramírez, who enrolled at UCLA’s pharmacy college in 1940. Ramirez grew up in Boyle Heights, supporting himself by selling fruit until he developed tuberculosis and was given six months to live. He beat the disease and continued his education at USC, where he graduated in 1951. Two years later, he bought a drugstore where he had shined shoes as a youth. He ran for Congress in 1968, and, in 1970, he ran for governor of California. In 1973, he moved his pharmacy to its current location, a building that had formerly been home to a Currie’s Ice Cream shop. Ramirez and his wife, Dolores, reared seven children, all but one of whom entered the healthcare field. Today, Eddie’s son Michael runs the pharmacy. It’s served by Metro‘s 70, 251, and 605 lines.
Garfield Pharmacy was established in 1962. It’s served by Metro‘s 617 Line.
LEE’S DISCOUNT DRUGS & GIFTS – 리스약국
Lee’s Discount Drugs & Gifts was founded by Sang J Lee. Lee’s Discount Drugs & Gifts is served by Metro‘s 28, 204, and 754 lines; and LADOT‘s DASH Wilshire Center/Koreatown Line.
LITTLE TOKYO PHARMACY
Little Tokyo Pharmacy was established in 2005 by pharmacist Mi Sook Cho. It’s served by LADOT ‘s DASH A Line and Metro‘s A Line (once the Regional Connector is completed and the new Little Tokyo/Arts District Station opens).
Lorena Pharmacy traces its roots to the 1922 opening of Warnacks Pharmacy. The family that now runs Lorena Pharmacy bought Warnacks in 1928. As you’d expect, it had a soda fountain. Its name was changed to Lorena Pharmacy in 1942. The original building was demolished and replaced with the current structure in 1989. It’s served by Metro‘s 18 and 605 lines.
MEDX PHARMACY & SUPPLY
Medx Pharmacy & Supply was founded in 2014. Medx Pharmacy is served by Metro‘s 180 Line.
Morningside Pharmacy opened in 1958. It was bought in 2008 by pharmacist Remy C. Mgbojirikwe. It’s served by Metro‘s 116 and 207 lines.
Picwood Pharmacy was established in 1988 by pharmacist Siamac Zakhor. Picwood Pharmacy is served by Big Blue Bus‘s 7, 8, E7, R7, and R12 lines; and Culver CityBus‘s CC3 Line.
ROBERTSON SPECIALTY PHARMACY
Robertson Specialty Pharmacy was founded in 2014 by pharmacist Babak Eghbali. It’s served by Big Blue Bus‘s 7 Line and Metro‘s 617 Line.
ST. LOUIS DRUG COMPANY
The corner building at 1st and St. Louis streets is more than a century old. Its tenant, St. Louis Drug Company, has been there nearly as long—since 1920. Around 1967, Sam Wolkowitz, an employee at the drugstore for seventeen years, purchased the business and continued to operate it for many years. Since the late-1980s, the store has been owned by Raju Bhaktal, who has also been the long-term pharmacist.
In both a throwback and update on the old school drug store, in 2018, El Sereno native Amy Tam and her business partner, Boyle Heights native Andres Fuentes, created Cake Girl and began baking and selling all-natural vegan treats from behind the original fountain counter.
Also worth noting is the mural Bridges to East LA, painted in 1993 by Ernesto de la Loza on the pharmacy’s exterior sidewall. In the back, there’s a newer mural titled Our Lady Queen of Angels, curated by Galo Canote, and painted by Sergio Daniel Robleto and Shandu.
The St. Louis Drug Company is served by Metro‘s 30 and 106 lines.
VERMONT VO PHARMACY
Vermont VO Pharmacy was established in 1992 by Sun “Edward” Lee. Vermont VO Pharmacy is served by Metro’s 28, 204, and 754 lines; and LADOT‘s DASH Wilshire Center/Koreatown Line.
WEST KNOLL PHARMACY
Zion Drug was founded by Tai Young Choi in 2007. Zion Drug is served by LADOT‘s DASH Wilshire Center/Koreatown Line and Metro‘s 16 Line.