By Margie Smith Holt
Ivan is so nice and so helpful—a good resource for the neighborhood.
Yes! Ivan is absolutely the best!
West Side Rag readers have spoken. Coming in at the top of the Rag’s Thanksgiving contest of neighborhood favorites (neck and neck with Zabar’s in the Best Small Business category) is Ivan Pharmacy at 691 Columbus between 93rd and 94th.
Just don’t call it Ivan’s—with an “s.” Pharmacist and proprietor Ivan Jourdain says that puts too much focus on him when, in fact, it takes his whole team—and a fantastic neighborhood—to make the business a success.
“My story would not be possible unless it was the Upper West Side,” says Jourdain.
Ivan Pharmacy has been on the Upper West Side since 1991; Ivan the pharmacist has been in the neighborhood more than 50 years. But their story begins in the Caribbean.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Jourdain knew from an early age he wanted to be a pharmacist. He got his first chemistry set when he was seven, a treasured gift from his mother’s sister, his Aunt Justina, who was a pharmacist in Santo Domingo. He saw how appreciated she was by the community, how much she helped people.
“I just looked up to her so much. She was my role model,” he said. “I wanted to be like her.”
She never made much money, but she was satisfied with what she did. She was happy. Not like some of his other relatives—the engineers, architects, doctors, and lawyers.
“They were all very unhappy. But my aunt? Very happy. So I said, wow. Happiness seems to be where it’s at.”
Jourdain was “lucky enough to come to this country,” moving to New York at age “9 or 10” with his mother. They lived in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment with a bathtub adjacent to the kitchen and a shared toilet in the hallway. He had a view of his new school, PS 145 on 105th Street. He didn’t speak a word of English.
His dream never wavered. When he was old enough to get a job, he only applied at pharmacies. At 16 he found work sweeping floors and making deliveries at a drugstore just blocks from where Ivan Pharmacy is now.
“My English was poor. And Mr. Jacob [the pharmacist], I can only imagine what he saw. I had a big Afro. I had tight polyester bell-bottom pants, a wide belt with a big buckle, and an Afro pick on the back of my head. I had hair then. And he didn’t care. He just said, ‘Can you sweep? Can you make deliveries?’ … He trusted me. I saw in Mr. Jacob that he was doing the same thing that my aunt was doing.”
Jourdain studied at City College and Long Island University. A registered pharmacist since 1983, he started out as part-owner of Martley Drug at 96th and Columbus. When that partnership dissolved, he opened Ivan. Today, more than 30 years later, he’s on a first-name basis with most of his customers. Some families he’s treated for three generations.
“It’s easy to remember them when you consider them friends,” he says.
“I still get all of these offers from the chains to sell. It has never been tempting. As it is, I come in in the morning, I open up the store, I put in my 10 or 12 hours. And I never regret a day putting the key through the door. The day just flies by. Because I’ve been here so long, I know everybody by name. They know me by name. It’s not really a job.”
In addition to that one-on-one attention, Ivan Pharmacy offers something else special: A children’s book and toy section, personally curated by the boss. The father of three and grandfather of three more has read every book in the collection—some to his kids when they were young, some to his grandkids, some while relaxing after work. Each book has to meet his criteria.
“And my criteria is simple,” he says. The book needs to teach a kid a lesson. Or evoke an emotion. “If it makes me laugh, if it makes me cry, then I buy it.
“The book section is really my pride and joy because I love doing that. I love ordering the books. I love it when parents say, Oh, you have a great book section! I love it even more when teachers come in and say, You have the greatest books! Not a single book is in that section unless I read it.”
Ditto for the toys: The LEGO and the Playmobil that his kids grew up on. The unicorns, stuffed dogs, and masked giraffe that greet customers at the door.
“Everything in that toy section I selected myself,” he says. “It all tends to be very family-oriented, very educational, very hands-on. And the stuffed animals are just cute.”
The books and toys also serve a practical purpose, helping to balance the books. To be sure, there are big challenges owning a small independent pharmacy in an age where there seems to be a Rite Aid* or Walgreens on every corner. Ivan Pharmacy stays competitive by offering delivery, regularly checking prices on the shelves of the stores around them, and selling specialty products. But Jourdain says the biggest challenge isn’t the chain stores, or high rent, or even the shoplifting that’s become especially problematic lately. It’s the PBMs—the pharmacy benefit managers that act as middlemen between insurance providers and drug companies.
“The PBMs are out to get small, independent pharmacies. But now, they’ve gone beyond that. Now, they are limiting the access that the patient has to the medicine,” Jourdain says. “They are constantly cutting back on reimbursement … 40% to 60% of the prescriptions that I do are below cost … these PBMs have gone out of their way to make sure that independent pharmacies go out of business. And they don’t hide it. They don’t hide it. That’s why just about every state out there has decided to sue them.
“It’s definitely not the shoplifting, and it’s not the other big chain stores. And the rent could be met if we were to get the proper reimbursement whenever we fill a prescription. It’s that simple. Just give us a proper reimbursement whenever we fill a prescription, and then we can be out there to serve the community, instead of having empty stores in every other block.”
Jourdain is determined to keep fighting, but don’t call him a hero. Ivan Pharmacy was a refuge during the pandemic, but he insists it’s his staff who should get the credit. And their customers.
“People go out of their way to come in… I get a lot of people from 97th Street. They literally walk by Rite Aid. They walk by CVS (on Amsterdam). And they walk by Walgreens to come here. So how do I compete? Because the neighborhood refuses to see me go down … It’s amazing, and it’s very, very humbling because I know they have a choice.”
Jourdain is 66 now and not thinking about retirement. None of his children are interested in taking over the “family pharm,” as they call it, but he’s had staff members become pharmacists and he’s proud of that legacy. And he’s still not interested in those couple of offers a month to sell. He likes his job. He’s happy. He’s done his aunt proud.
“It’s just so rewarding. I have never regretted a single moment of being here. Not one second,” he says. “If you enjoy what you do, it’s impossible to get burned out. And you will put in 7 days a week, 10 hours a day, and you cannot get burned out if you enjoy what you’re doing. And before you know it, 36 years have passed and you’re still doing it and you’re happy.
“You cannot put a price tag on happiness. Period. You just can’t.”
* Rite Aid on W. 97th Street, the last one on the Upper West Side, recently announced that it will close at the end of January.
I love this place ! When I was young, we lived around the corner from Martley’s. The Grandfather as it were of Ivan’s. I am not surprised people walk by the chains which get worse and worse every year. This place is for real.!
One of the best articles about local businesses. Thank you.
Ivan is terrific. His pharmacy is too. And his curated selection of children’s books is a treasure. Going to Ivan Pharmacy is a personal experience. You don’t get an answering computer when you call Ivan either. Ivan and his pharmacy are what the UWS is all about.
Great article, thank you!
““It’s definitely not the shoplifting, and it’s not the other big chain stores. And the rent could be met if we were to get the proper reimbursement whenever we fill a prescription.”
I didn’t know about this.
It is indeed a travesty. Pharmacists should get reimbursed fully, or it is the system STEALING from them, plain and simple.
As a customer since the day he’s opened in my neighborhood he goes above and beyond to make sure he figures out how to get your insurance to cover your medication. It’s a travesty what all these for profit insurance companies are doing to small businesses.
Thank you for this wonderful article. Ivan Pharmacy is a bright spot in a neighborhood that is facing some serious challenges. He, and is staff, are always professional, curteous and helpful. May Ivan, and his staff, stay in the pharmacy business and indeed community service, for many more years to come.
I love Ivan. I would walk 20 blocks where I got great a price, best on the UWS for an important prescription for my pet. Ivan was warm and supportive as was the rest of the staff. I love the toys and book section. Brings back memories of my youth shopping in a real toy store. Always a pleasant experience at Ivan.
Fabulous article about one of the most deserving small businesses on the UWS. When my kids were growing up I got better advice from Ivan than I did from my doctor! An excellent resource, a safe and pleasant environment, and even some good jazz playing in the background. Oh, and he even loves to give our black Labr some treats. Ivan and Ivan’s rock!!
Ivan is the best. very knowledgeable!
I’d love to see a similar profile of Morrie, Jay and the team at Chateau Drug & Homecare on Amsterdam at 69th Street. I’ve been with them for over 20 years. They have helped me navigate the insurance maze, advised me on less expensive alternatives to prescriptions and have even stayed open late for me. A neighborhood institution. May they live long and prosper!
Ivan’s is the only drug store I will use. He is friendly, knowledgeable and will always take the time to explain anything you ask about a prescription. Also, Khan has been his right hand man for years and gets a shout out from me for his help.
firstname.lastname@example.orgTalk about dreams come true, Park West Pharmacy on Columbus and 82nd has made my life that. Helpful, friendly, and always dependable. I hope you’ll do a story about them someday.
Ivan goes above and beyond as a business owner and person. His prices are fantastic always better than any chain store including on all tolteries toothpaste. deodorant etc.
He is a lifesaver since he keeps track of your medication and will have a conversation and cares about your health.
At one time I did not have health insurance that covered medication and his prices for medication for ulcerative colitis were always less expensive than any chain stores.
He knows your whole family, since he is local .
It’s the wonderful personal service of old fashion pharmacies us older folks grew up knowing and caring for us.
He is well deserving of all the accolades and business he receives. The toys and books are terrific plus he has all kinds of beautiful European hand creams and other imported products that he didn’t even talk about in the article.
This story is so wonderful, I recently moved to a big city after living in a small community of 4,000 people for 20years. I went to the local pharmacy and loved everyone there. For years they have had the same employees and pharmacists who are all on a first name basis with the customers. I sure do miss the friendly attitudes and greeting you when you come in.
Ivan’s is terrific– a throwback to the days when there were many small businesses on the west side that you could walk into and feel that the people there knew you and you could swap stories about the neighborhood and/or the latest outrageous experience in your life.
Ivan also dispenses advice about products that is extremely helpful, many times opting for a less expense alternative when you’re not sure what to buy.
Having Ivan’s on the same block as Mani Market is a one-two punch for businesses that care about their customers.
Keep truckin’ Ivan!
This comment is right in target in every way. I second these emotions. Ivan is a neighborhood treasure. Ivans is the epitome of the true upper west side
Ivan is the best; I’ve been his customer for 20+ years.
I love this article — what a great story about a wonderful man and business. I didn’t know about PBMs and the problems they are causing — I wonder if there is any legislation being considered to address this issue, because I would be eager to support it.
It’s a start: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/new-york-enacts-legislation-regulating-7551164/
Thanks so much for providing this link, Jifrah. The very existence of PBMs has become pointless. The role was invented to help keep down drug costs but that clearly is a crock.
Ivan is a treasure, an asset to the neighborhood in every way. He cares deeply about people. When I need advice about pharmaceutical matters and related issues, I can always rely on him for help and assistance. I’m so grateful for Ivan Pharmacy as a great place to shop, and for Ivan whose kindness and warmth exemplifies what is best about this neighborhood.
In any number of ways, Ivan is the most important person in this UWS neighborhood, the equivalent of a primary care physician on medication related matters, a reminder of what the highest standards are, and a training ground for the next generation of professionals who understand what high standards are. And the hope that he is not the last of his kind.
I didn’t know about the books but I will definitely look into it.
Ivan is a neighborhood institution and it does not surprise me that he is so loved. I know that for many – especially the older or more vulnerable people in the neighborhood – Ivan Pharmacy is a home away from home where they know there would always be a kind word, a knowledgeable response, a friendly face. I’m yet to NOT find a gift there. For children, for sure, but also for adults, for whom he has a lovely selection of good quality, reasonably priced offerings. Fun greeting cards, too. Always a welcoming atmosphere. Ivan and his staff have gone out of their way throughout the pandemic. They took pains to make sure that EVERYONE was safe in their pharmacy, no matter how frail or vulnerable. They still make sure that everyone puts health and kindness to others first. I’m so glad you did this piece. He’s been my pharmacist for years, and I hope he will remain that for many many more.
Ivan Pharmacy reminds me of the family businesses my uncles and aunts ran in my early midwestern small town life. If Ivan doesn’t have it, I probably don’t need it.
Ivan Pharmacy is amazing! After an emergency room all nighter with my 2 year old daughter on Thanksgiving Eve, Ivan brought the medicine that we needed for her (including an EPIPEN) to our house on Thanksgiving morning. I am forever indebted. Everyone there is truly dedicated to their customers.
Great article. It shows the wonderful multifaceted nature of Ivan himself and the pharmacy he has built The breadth of his knowledge and his willingness to share it so graciously is wondrous. He is indeed a throwback neighborhood pharmacist who knows and takes care of everyone. He is a neighborhood treasure.
Ivan Pharmacy is a Mayberry RFD oasis in the big city. I’ve been wagging my tail in there for over 14 years and have as yet to meet anyone in the joint with anything less than a welcoming smile and/or a chicken treat. From what I can tell, everyone at Ivan Pharmacy treats humans well too – my human is always in there buying something, – he swears off Amazon and any other retailer if he knows he can get it at Ivan. He believes in supporting this wonderful, local, personalized family-run business. They care. And it shows. Without Ivan, our little corner of the UWS would be a lonely place. Woof woof, Ivan Pharmacy, woof woof!
I was scanning through the articles and came upon a familiar face. Ivan! I absolutely adore Ivan. I used to live up there and one of the greatest pleasures was going first to Ivans and then to Mannys Market. Oh how I miss that hood… 🙂
It’s a terrible thing that small pharmacies and other Mom and Pop stores are going out of business one by one. The wonderful Suba Pharmacy was eventually forced out by high rent as well. To see such dedication, integrity, kindness and delightful spirit is a rarity today. I hope jourdain Ivan is a forever fixure on the Upper West Side. We need more forevers in our lives right now.
I won’t pretend that I don’t have a bias for Ivan, but I also love Zabar’s, however it seems to me that it is a complete farce to place them both in the same category, that of “Small business.” What Ivan and his small staff do for their customers and the community on a daily/weekly/monthly/annual basis is nothing short of a miracle. Zabar’s is wonderful too and my life would be greatly diminished if they were gone or hadn’t been on the UWS for longer than I have been (my entire life) , but let’s be fair, Zabar’s is a sizable business both brick and mortar and mail order. I mean, they ship nationally if not internationally for Pete’s sake.
My family and I consider Ivan family. It goes beyond being on a first-name basis. He knows us, and we know him. A visit to Ivan always involves a long, catch-up conversation. He promised my firstborn his first job the day I went in to buy an ovulation kit and was, of course, true to his word, giving both my kids their first jobs. I’ve always said, Ivan is a small-town pharmacist in the big city. The best part about this article? Reading that he has no plans to retire. Whew! Ivan is one-of-a-kind. And his staff is great, especially Khan who has been his right hand forever.