Pharmacist Ed Ullman has come to an agreement with Phoenicia restaurateur Mike Ricciardella to rent the ground floor of the former Ricciardella’s Restaurant at 54 Main Street in Phoenicia. Ullman expects to open a pharmacy in the space after renovation, hopefully next spring.
In 2014, when the 64-year-old Phoenicia Pharmacy was put on the market, Ullman attempted to buy the building and take on the business built by Marty Millman over the course of more than three decades. Unable to obtain financing for the renovation required, Ullman opened a shop in Tannersville, Wellness Rx, which offers prescriptions, traditional medical products, and natural remedies. The Phoenicia Pharmacy closed in 2016 and later became Phoenicia Arts and Antiques.
Ullman’s new store will be an extension of Wellness Rx. As at the Tannersville branch, he plans to provide a clinical space for massage therapy, acupuncture, energy medicine, and other alternative medicine services, as well as administration of immunizations. He has contractors lined up to renovate and bring the premises up to code for a pharmacy.
“The restaurant has been dormant for six years,” Ullman said. “Everybody who grew up locally, when they wanted to take their best date out, they went to Ricciardella’s.” Mike Ricciardella, who also owns Brio’s and The Sportsman’s, closed his eponymous eatery when he opened The Phoenician in the former Al’s Restaurant at the western end of the hamlet.
Now the ground floor of the building in the center of town will be taken over by Ullman, who plans to create the same apothecary feel he has established in the Tannersville location. The carpets will be removed to expose the wood floors. A handicapped ramp will be constructed in the rear of the building, where there is ample public parking, and he anticipates a facelift for the facade. Inside and out, said Ullman, “we’re going to make an artistic design, with lollipop-type colors.”
All drugs will be stored in the back, not visible to the public. Prescriptions taken in onsite will initially be filled in Tannersville, until demand increases to the point of enabling Ullman to pay for more pharmacist work hours. The restaurant’s bar will be converted to a formulary for mixing ingredients for the 30 natural products created by Wellness Rx.
“We’ve been working on these products and services for 10 years,” Ullman said. “I’ve made a lot of contacts. We use local products and vendors, such as Catskill Fungi. There will be art throughout the store, fishbowls for kids to look at, and counseling services available as we move along. In Tannersville, we have nutritional counseling for people with cancer, and we just did 100 COVID boosters.” He expects the new store to be dog-friendly.
Ullman’s background includes training at the Albany College of Pharmacy, studies in natural medicine, and founding of the HMO WellCare. He has served as director of the Ulster County Department of Health and as a county legislator. His goal is to establish a new national model for pharmacies, with a culture of service for all people and a charitable trust to help those with emergency needs but few resources. He plans to make Wellness Rx the first community pharmacy to convert to a nonprofit structure.
“It’s a holistic model, and our team has gotten good at implementing it. We network, affiliate, encourage, support. I’ve never seen the health care system on its knees the way it is coming out of COVID. More services need to go in the direction of nonprofit to get a sense of health care as a human right. Ulster County is a renaissance area. If you can’t do new ideas here, I don’t know where you can do them. People here are so open to creativity.”
Ullman is gratified by the enthusiasm his project has been shown by the community and the Town of Shandaken. He and his staff plan to engage with the school district to increase the amount of health education for high school and college students, plus providing mental health counseling and mentoring about health care professions. “Mental health is no longer a for-profit initiative. I hope we can be involved with the field and have a recovery coach on staff. I’m thrilled the county is using stimulus money to get back into the provision of mental health services after farming it out. I hope we can become another spark to add to that.”