Giannotto's Pharmacy

by Harry T. Roman

It’s amazing how an object can trigger all sorts of memories. As I write this, I am holding a faded plastic cut-out of a grandfather clock. It must be 40 years old. Where the face of the clock should be is a raised circle of sponge-like material that if blue indicates fair weather and if pink, bad weather. Running up the middle of the clock is a room thermometer. At the base of the clock image it says, Giannotto’s Pharmacy HU-2-8220.


In my earliest memories, Nick Giannotto and his pharmacy are there. I remember his original store with the corner entrance and old counters before it was remodeled in the 1950s, He must have been there 45 years, at the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue, 5th Street, and 1st Avenue—across from the water tower. There is a sign now in front of the store designating it Giannotto Plaza in memory of his life and service to the community.

His store always seemed open. If you needed something, Nick had it somewhere in the store, or down in the basement. I don't ever remember him not having a product. If Nick was home having dinner or taking some time off, Pat the other pharmacist was there filling out prescriptions.

Even after folks grew up, got married and moved, they still came back to patronize Nick's place. I was one of them. You never knew who was going to be in the store. Over the years, I was re-united with a number of old neighborhood and school friends in that cozy and safe place. Nick always had time for a chat. It was strictly a first-name basis big family. Many is the time I saw Nick forget how to charge a child who wanted a candy bar but was short of the correct amount.

Everybody knew that if you had an emergency and couldn't get to the hospital or to the doctor, you called Nick and he knew what to do. Every doctor in the area answered his telephone when Nick called. In his professional life, he was known throughout the state for his work in the various pharmacy organizations; but always.....always a modest and simple man.

My after-dinner summer ritual for Dad was to stop by the local deli (remember those!) on Bloomfield Avenue, and pick up a roll and some fresh lunch meat for him; and on the return trip, stop at Nick's for a pack of Old Gold cigarettes. "What's the matter?" Nick would tease, Did your father forget the way over here? Tell him I said he is a no good bum for making his son do his legwork!"

Of course when Dad next went to the store, he would have some fun with Nick. Upon entering Dad would say something like this in a loud voice, “I’d like to register a complaint with the owner of this store, Nick Giannotto. Is that miserable man here?” And that was enough to kick-off a round of good-natured insults between the two old friends that ended up with the whole store laughing, including them. They loved it. That was Nick’s place. You got a little entertainment with your prescription or purchase.

Mom and Dad always told me and my sisters when we were growing up, "If you are near Bloomfield Avenue and something happens or there is someone bothering you, run to Nick's and stay there." At Nick's everybody knew your name and who you belonged too. You were cared about.

As my young mind began to develop a liking for science, Nick would save the old glass cigar tubes for me for my chemistry experiments. Cigar boxes would also be saved for storing my chemicals. If I had a biology question or did not understand a technical term, Nick would be there to explain it to me, either over the phone or in person.

As I had a family of my own, Nick would pull me aside and like the second father that he was, he had to make sure everything was all right: "Harry, you spending enough time with your kids? Never neglect your family."

"Did you stop by and see your mother? Make sure she takes her medicine."

"Your dad was in the store last week and wasn't himself. Go stop by and talk with him."

"How's the job? Everything all right?"

Today you go to a large pharmacy and wait in line. Nobody really knows you. I miss the ribbing and humor. I can hear Nick giving me the business...."Oh look who just walked in the store? Mr. Harry Roman himself. You guys remember him? He is that local boy who became famous and moved away. What's the matter, you only come here when you are sick?" And then I would get a hug, an arm around the shoulder, and a small lecture and some words of wisdom. What store-owner is going to hug you today? You hug somebody now and you get sued. Give me the old neighborhood store. Give me a ton of Nick Giannottos, and the world would be a much better place.

It was a sad day indeed when Nick passed. At his wake you couldn't get in the door without waiting in line. This was a man with a full life. They don't make them like Nick Giannotto anymore. I am so grateful our paths crossed.

Sure there’s that memorial sign out front of his old store, but you had to know the man to really appreciate what a great guy he was. I know. I was there. I remember his face, his voice, his smile, his humor, and his kindness. He is one of my most cherished Newark memories.

Thanks for everything Nick.


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