Phoenicia Pharmacy sale marks new era

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

After several years on the market, the venerable Phoenicia Pharmacy building has been purchased by John and Olga Zirinsky. They are thinking to rent the 5000-square-foot space to a combination of entrepreneurs but are starting out with an arts-and-crafts market, dubbed Phoenicia Pharmmarket, which opened Columbus Day weekend and is expected to continue on weekends through the holidays.

On the first day of operation, John said the dozen vendors set up in the former pharmacy saw plenty of traffic, “but it would be better if we had more vendors. The people who have good merchandise are selling. There’s plenty of opportunity here for local vendors.”

The Zirinskys are New York City residents who have been visiting the Catskills for 31 years, spending many weekends in Chichester, where they own land, a house, and two cabins. John had a career as a lawyer for ten years, until he took over his father’s Manhattan real estate business.

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“We come up here to relax, not to work,” said John, “but I kept driving by the pharmacy and thinking for years that it was underutilized.” Former owners Marty and Georganna Millman ran the pharmacy for over three decades, also offering toys, stationery, and other products, spread out across the vast space. The faded clothing and greeting cards near the windows were a trademark of the building, which was used many times as a film set due to its vintage appearance. With Marty’s death in 2015, Georganna kept the business going for about a year, then folded up shop last summer.

Vendors display wares inside the former Phoenicia Pharmacy.

When the Zirinskys heard the building had been sold, John was regretful he hadn’t acted on his impulse. Inquiries revealed that a purchase was under consideration, but the deal had not yet gone through, and he decided to move on it.

Joe Di Thomas and Martin Torres told the Shandaken planning board in May that they were considering buying the building. They proposed turning it into a community workspace, with offices for rental by freelancers, as well as a coffee bar and a back room for events. Di Thomas said recently he was disappointed the deal fell through. “It’s too bad. It would’ve been a good thing for Phoenicia.”

The Zirinskys are throwing ideas around. “We would like to bring a pharmacist in,” said Olga. “We’ve spoken to one and reached out to another.” One strategy would be to house the pharmacy in the back corner, where Millman’s medications used to line the shelves, and to put in a new door leading directly to the parking lot. Then the rest of the space could be carved up for two or three shops or other businesses.

“It would be an enhancement to this end of town,” said John. “If we have a few stores here, it would accelerate the activity.”

Over the past few weeks, they have cleaned out the building, moved the extensive shelving off to the side, painted the floor a solid blue-gray, and aroused controversy on Facebook by painting over the deep blue facade across the front of the building, framing the pharmacy sign. Hamlet residents regretted the loss of the shiny antique expanse over the windows, now covered by beige paint. Asked about the issue, John replied, “I tried to anticipate problems, but I didn’t anticipate that one. I think it looks better light. The dark color was not so inviting. Anyone who takes over the building can restore the sign. To the folks who were offended, I do apologize.”

For now, the Zirinskys are testing out the concept of an arts-and-crafts market. “The feedback we’re getting is that there aren’t a lot of places for people to rent around here to sell their work,” said John. “If a group of vendors develops, and they want to keep it going, I’d like to give them the opportunity.” Renting out spaces for $30 or so per day, they drew a number of local artisans on the first weekend of operation.

Sally Rothchild, a Mount Tremper potter, had a table of ceramics near the door. “My understanding is the owners want to build it up into a community of local vendors,” she commented. “There seems to be pretty good traffic in town. I’ve sold some work.”

Eve Otto of Chichester was offering her handmade necklaces and art cards, as well as cherrywood cutting boards made by her partner, Henry Needham. At The Little Cauldron table, River Hoffman, a Phoenicia resident, seemed to be doing well selling her homemade soaps, smudge sticks, crocheted scarves, and herbal products.

Aside from the blue sign, the only thing seriously missing was the bell that used to ring when you stepped on the doormat. Despite the nostalgia, maybe we won’t miss it too much. To me, that bell was kind of annoying.

For information on the Phoenicia Pharmmarket, see https://www.facebook.com/phoenicia.pharmmarket.

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