There is something especially welcoming when you stroll past a shop with benches or seats outside. Add a colorful window display or a sidewalk-tuned-art-canvas out front, and you just have to walk in. Thompson Alchemists at 132 Thompson Street, just south of Houston Street, fits the bill for all of that, and much more. And they are our August Business of the Month.
This unique family-owned and operated pharmacy does far more than fill your prescriptions. They have all kinds of essential daily products and holistic items, and even host small live performances. Literally a ‘Mom and Pop’ store, Jolie and Gary first opened their pharmacy in 1994 as Thompson Chemists just across the street (and they actually had to move to West Broadway for a while as a result of an electrical fire; but after a long renovation they have re-opened at the Thompson Street location, expanded, and cleverly re-named themselves Thompson Alchemists). They survived hight rent and taxes, a fire, and a cancer diagnosis for Gary. After 9-11 they were the only pharmacy open below Houston Street for about a month, providing supplies and fulfilling prescriptions. A trained pharmacist who once worked as a delivery boy in a pharmacy, Gary saw the kind of socially engaged community lifestyle that career could provide, seeing people on a daily basis and helping them. He sees their mission as more than a CVS; they want to “connect the community to bigger things.”
Jolie speaks five different languages. She makes sure the store is stocked with common items and boutique specialty products for body and hair care and overall wellness. When she and Gary first opened, this part of the Village was more Italian and Portuguese; she speaks both, as well as French and Spanish. This helps her communicate with the old timers or European visitors that love to shop and stroll the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District that GVSHP got landmarked in 2016 within which their store is located. Gary and Jolie’s first date was at 151 Wooster. When one of their sons was young, he always asked to go to this part of town, the one with the “tiny streets.”
Jolie and Gary hire local, and encourage their employees to enhance their skills or pursue interest areas from marketing to accounting. More than one pharmacist that has worked there has gone on to open their own shop. Gary himself is one of the pharmacists there and loves what he does. But today with the American healthcare system as tenuous as it is, a pharmacy needs to make money from the front end, the rest of the shop. So besides toothpaste, sun protection, razors, gum, vitamins and band-aids, Thompson Alchemists carry an array of wonderful hair and bath and body care products for every taste.
Some of their many items they are excited and knowledgeable about include special shampoos and conditioners produced by a personal friend’s company. Some items they were among the first to import and offer to America, before the company even had English language labels. Thompson Alchemists has nurtured their name and brand over the years, and now offer their own labeled products, from wryly named candles like “Calm the F*** Down” to calming oils with Bulgarian lavendar and ambrosial bath salts you must try at the end of a day.
Gary says “society wants to turn everything into a business.” But they have maintained a stable business with the feel of an art gallery and community center with success defined as enjoyment. They allow artists without access to galleries to hang their colorful works. On one recent visit one could encounter a bunch of old friends reconnecting, a dog’s birthday, and an out-of-town visitor grateful to find a local shop that spoke their language
More recently, Jolie and Gary have taken to hosting the aptly named Thompson Street Medicine Show, starring Sheriff Bob, a multi-decade veteran of Village jams, Deputy Kat, and an eclectic mix of bluegrass aficionados and performers. They play every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month; and if there is a fifth, the show will go on. The next one is August 14th at 7pm, check it out! Thanks to Kat and Friends here’s a video that introduces the viewer to the magic of the scene down there!
Just because they look so nice doesn’t mean everything is expensive. It means they care about their shop and their community, and cultivating and nourishing what they call the “Village vibe”. That is why Thompson Alchemists are our August Business of the Month.