Chicago

Merz Apothecary

4716 N Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 989-0900
www.merzapothecary.com

In 1875, Peter Merz, a Chicago pharmacist of Swiss descent, opened the Apothecary on the city's north side. It was not much different from the other corner drugstores which existed in every American neighborhood and town at the time. Since the clientele at his shop consisted mainly of European immigrants from the surrounding neighborhood, Merz decided to call the store "apothecary" in the European tradition. He focused mainly on herbal medicines and traditional formulas, which were already popular and familiar among his international customers.

The apothecary also served as a gathering place for Europeans. Comfortable leather chairs allowed patrons to sit and chat as they waited for their prescriptions to be filled or their remedies to be prepared. The pharmacists spoke many languages; this allowed customers to shop and seek advice in their native tongues. It wasn't long before the store's reputation spread.

In the early 1960s, corner drugstores throughout the United States began to die off. Low margins on prescriptions and competition from large chain drugstores like Walgreen's drove independent pharmacies out of business. Fortunately, this was not the case with the Merz Apothecary, since its traditional herbal approach to health allowed it to thrive during this difficult period.

In 1972, Ralph Merz was ready to retire - without a successor. The store, which had been in the family for three generations, was about to close permanently. One month before the scheduled closing, Pakistani pharmacist, Abdul Qaiyum, was told by his German parents-in-law that Merz was looking for a successor. As a recent pharmacy school graduate, Qaiyum had quickly become disenchanted with his job at a large drugstore chain and was ready to leave the field altogether. However, the Merz Apothecary, with its focus on traditional natural remedies, reminded him of his family's business and the healing traditions in his homeland of Pakistan. He purchased it a few days later.

Over the next few years Qaiyum managed to expand Merz Apothecary's business dramatically. He also noticed that more and more American customers were seeking out the store because they needed a quality source of natural products and information. So in 1982, he moved Merz Apothecary to its current, larger location, only a few miles from the original one. The new store was custom-built to replicate a turn-of-the-century European apothecary. The store's original antique pharmacy jars and herb containers (which were still in use) now had a fitting home. With the move, Qaiyum expanded the store's inventory to include homeopathic remedies, vitamins, supplements, and other natural medicines. In 1998, Quayum and his son Anthony founded www.smallflower.com, which now offers many of the health products on the internet.