By Claudie Benjamin
If you just need a pack of facial tissues and you’re late for an appointment, almost any one of a number of mini marts or chain store pharmacies will do. But, come to Thomas Drugs at 171 Columbus Avenue if you want to calmly chat with your neighborhood pharmacist about whether it’s OK to take Tylenol along with your allergy medicine or to get advice on which over-the-counter ointment for back pain is most likely to work. Or, should you worry if you are getting a little dizzy now that your physician has started you on a higher dose of a particular cholesterol medication? These are among literally hundreds of questions Pharmacist Khaja Khateeb R.Ph, answers all the time.
Reliability and sympathy seem to be key components of this businesses’ longevity. One customer comes in requesting a particularly rapid refill of her husband’s prescription before the couple leaves the next morning to fly out to California. “Not a problem.” Neighbors know they can rely on this type of responsiveness. These are just a few among a great many questions asked daily. Dr. Khateeb is interested, concerned and feels he’s there to answer.
Apart from the numerous bottles of different sizes, other containers and the refrigerator filled with pills and the ingredients to fill medical prescriptions, and shelves filled with an endless number of over-the-counter preparations for cough, headache, dry eye, pain, and itch, every inch of Thomas Drugs is filled with supplies to fill at last minute of spur of the moment need. A cooler with waters and soda, gum, candy and cough drops. A selection of nail polish, stationary items like folders and business sized envelopes, and even hole punchers and mini flashlights. “Whatever customers are asking for, we try to get it.” Dr. Khateeb says.
Talking about the popularity of particular medications, there are certain mainstays, immune system boosters that have endured for years Vitamin C, Echinacea and Zinc. The all-time store best seller is Tylenol and hardly a newcomer to the realm of pharmaceutical options. Why is it so much in demand? Dr. Khateeb says, “Tylenol is what has been recommended for any issues related to Covid including reaction to vaccination.”
Thomas Drugs has been open throughout the pandemic with a special focus on maintaining distance and limiting the number of customers who enter at one time. Dr. Kateeb says business is not as robust as it was pre-Covid, but in attention to his will to persevere, Dr. Kateeb says his landlord lowered his rent by 40 percent. “It’s the reason I’m still here.”
Born and raised in Bangalore, India, now known as the “IT Capital of the World”, Khateeb completed his undergraduate BA and MA in India and moved with his family to New Jersey. He earned a Pharmacy Doctorate at Long Island University. Soon after, in 1993, he purchased Thomas Drugs, a business that had first opened in 1941. The neighborhood was still emerging from the squalor that characterized the preceding three decades. But Dr. Khateeb was up for the challenge. He changed the configuration of the store a bit, but certain things, like the old hardwood floors remain.
Being a neighborhood pharmacist was and continues to be a source of great satisfaction. “Believe me it’s about passion, people and the community. It’s like a family. You build a kind of relationship. Although, it’s not easy speaking with a mask,” he notes, expressing a feeling shared by many frustrated customers who firmly adhere to Covid precautions.
The father of four ranging from 17-22, he appreciates having come to know multiple generations of Upper West Side families. “I remember the baby with his mother. Now he comes in and he’s a man.” Dr. Khateeb’s wife is trained as a dietitian. Asked if any of the couple’s own children are considering joining the family business. He laughs, responding, “No. They all want to be doctors,” he says.
Asked if he is in contact with family and friends in India who are still struggling to control the devastation of the Covid pandemic, Dr. Khateeb nods sadly. “Yes. We get calls every day about someone who has passed away. Considering resilience on the Upper West Side Dr. Khateeb says, “The neighborhood will gradually come back. But, a lot of damage has been done, people have moved out of the city but many younger people are moving into the neighborhood because rents have been lowered.”