By Anastasia Kaliabakos
In 1983, Mr. Michael Konnon, a pharmacist, businessman, activist, and community leader, decided that his neighborhood desperately needed a dedicated, independent community pharmacy. He founded the Village Apothecary at 346 Bleecker Street (at West 10th Street).
At that time, the West Village had become the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, affecting New York City more than any other city in America. Aside from a devastating illness, AIDS patients encountered numerous obstacles in their healthcare. Prescription coverage in the 1980s was limited (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, or ADAP, was not available until 1987), pharmacies did not want the high expense of stocking AIDS medications, large chain drugstores were not accommodating, and the illness itself brought along a stigma which made many patients uncomfortable.
From its inception, the Village Apothecary was a safe haven for these patients. The owner and much of the staff were gay and members of the community and therefore provided a high level of comfort and care. The Village Apothecary attained a reputation of stocking all AIDS and AIDS-related medications. The pharmacy was keenly aware of the financial toll this therapy imposed on their patients. Prices were kept as low as possible, and medications were dispensed close to cost or even free of charge to those who were without means.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Village Apothecary had a close collaboration with St. Vincent’s Hospital and local infectious disease practitioners, ensuring a team approach to tackling the population’s healthcare needs. These efforts were recognized in 2001 when the Village Apothecary was presented the ‘Legends of the Village’ Award by Village Care. To date, the Village Apothecary has served thousands of HIV/AIDS patients. The pharmacy works closely with and supports many New York City institutions including: Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Bailey House, Gods Love We Deliver, Greenwich House, and Heritage of Pride, to name a few.
Although prescription coverage is available to most New Yorkers with HIV, many still experience obstacles to optimal prescription therapy. Insurance companies attempt to force patients to use sometimes problematic mail order services and drug companies try to limit medication availability to a small number of pharmacies. Also, many costly therapies require prior authorizations and close communication between the pharmacy and prescriber. The Village Apothecary is a strong advocate for these patients, doing whatever possible to ensure continuation in patients’ therapy to achieve maximum benefits from treatment.
As New York City is the nation’s most diverse city, the Village Apothecary takes great pride in employing the most diverse staff, representing different cultures, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, HIV statuses, and physical disabilities. What unites the entire staff is that all are proud New Yorkers who want to serve their community. The pharmacy staff’s dedication cannot be deterred. The pharmacy has remained open through major snowstorms, blackouts, Superstorm Sandy, and even 9/11.
Mr. Konnon has since passed away. The owners Vijay Desai and Mital Patel are now at the reins. Both pharmacists are committed to the traditions and values of the Village Apothecary, keeping it an independent, family-run business and investing in its and the community’s future. Supervising Pharmacist Norman Saban and Sales Associate Eric Lora have been employed by the pharmacy for over 30 years and are familiar faces in the neighborhood. Pharmacist Bobby Antala, and pharmacy technicians, Alex Chavez, Arnel Molina, and Jeffrey Sosa, joined the Village Apothecary family in the last decade, bringing their dedication to the pharmacy’s mission.
John Kaliabakos, the Director of Pharmacy Services, has been a pharmacist at the Village Apothecary since 1994, and was originally hired by Mr. Konnon to handle day-to-day pharmacy operations. He closely monitors the prescription profiles of over 600 HIV patients and works closely with some of the top HIV specialists in New York City. Born to Greek immigrant parents and raised in Queens, John attended The Bronx High School of Science and earned his pharmacy degree from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He is a consummate New Yorker who truly enjoys serving the people of this amazing city. He has become an integral part of the healthcare provider system of the West Village and beyond. John is a dedicated pharmacist who offers a high level of professionalism and leadership that is reflected in the services provided by the entire pharmacy. He has genuine compassion and empathy for the patients he serves.
New Yorkers are fortunate to have many options for their healthcare needs. The Village Apothecary has earned a reputation as a pharmacy associated with trust, respect, and professionalism. Thousands of patients consider it a true gem of New York City and worthy of recognition.