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2020 Village Awardee: Village Apothecary, 346 Bleecker Street

Each year, Village Preservation honors the invaluable people, businesses, and organizations that make a special contribution to our neighborhoods at our Annual Meeting and Village Awards. On June 17th, 2020 we will be celebrating nine outstanding awardees — RSVP here to participate virtually.

​In 1983, Michael Konnon — pharmacist, businessman, activist, and community leader — decided that his West Village neighborhood was desperately in need of a dedicated, independent community pharmacy. And so, Village Apothecary was born. This lovely Bleecker Street shop located at the southwest corner of West 10th Street is everything that a community pharmacy should be: a place to run into neighbors, a place to find all the essentials, and a place to really feel seen, heard, and cared for by the pharmacist. 

Just as New York City is the nation’s most diverse city, Village Apothecary takes great pride in employing the most diverse staff representing all different cultures, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, HIV status, and physical disabilities. The one thing that the entire staff has in common is that they are all proud New Yorkers who live in the city and want to serve their community. As a matter of fact, the pharmacy staff’s dedication cannot be underestimated; the pharmacy has remained open through snowstorms, blackouts, Superstorm Sandy, 9/11, and now, 2020’s COVID-19. It is this community dedication, and a truly robust history, that won our hearts — and our Village Award! 

Amidst the AIDS Crisis 

In the 80s and 90s, Village Apothecary had a close collaboration with St. Vincent’s Hospital and the infectious disease practitioners in the area, ensuring a team approach to tackling the area’s healthcare needs. These efforts were recognized in 2001 when Village Apothecary was presented the Legends of the Village Award by Village Care. To date, Village Apothecary has served thousands of HIV/AIDS patients.

At that time, the West Village was the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. Even so, AIDS patients encountered numerous obstacles in their healthcare. Prescription coverage in the 80s was limited, misinformation was rampant, and pharmacies did not want to be burdened with the expense of stocking AIDS medications, not to mention the social stigma. From the first days it opened in 1983, Village Apothecary was a safe haven for these patients — the stigma and the cost, they knew, were worth taking care of their loved ones and neighbors. AIDS-related medications are always stocked, and prices are kept as low as possible.

​To this day, Village Apothecary is a strong advocate for patients, both with medical professionals and insurance companies, doing whatever possible to ensure that their clients’ healthcare is seamless and effective. 

National and Local Activism, Then and Now 

From the daily details of each client to the national-level picture, Village Apothecary and its staff have made a real difference. One turning point that stands out amidst Village Apothecary’s distinguished history is its run-in with Merck, the pharmaceutical giant. Merck developed CRIXIVAN at the time, a new and promising drug in the battle against HIV/AIDS. However, they were only allowing it to be filled by one place in the entire country. Village Apothecary went to bat for the community, petitioning congressmen and senators and appealing with passionate letters to Merck itself.  They ultimately won the fight and earned the right to dispense the drug to the public.

Village Apothecary staff also intervene on customers’ behalf and help the poor and struggling to navigate red tape, write letters, or fill out paperwork. They also generously assist customers in referring them to places that offer needed services, such as Bailey House and Northwell Health Center.  Some of the people who need to fight the mountains of paperwork in order to get their medication don’t have the wherewithal to go through the process, and Village Apothecary helps with that too.

In 2019, Village Apothecary joined other independent pharmacies and pharmacy organizations in petitioning New York’s Governor to end the unfair insurance policies which allowed health plans to steal millions of dollars from pharmacy patients, forcing many independent pharmacies out of business. After many protests at City Hall and Albany, they were finally able to convince Governor Cuomo to end these unjust practices. This was a great victory for independent pharmacies and for all New Yorkers who use pharmacies.

New – and Continued – Leadership

All of this is happening under the Apothecary’s new leadership. Mr. Konnon has since retired and owners Vijay and Mital Desai are now at the reins. Both are pharmacists, and their commitment to maintaining the traditions and values of Village Apothecary is apparent. The pharmacy works closely with and supports many New York City institutions, including GMHC, Bailey House, God’s Love We Deliver, Greenwich House, Heritage of Pride, and Stonewall Veterans, to name a few. They also help people with Medicaid and have been separating their clients’ medications into daily dose packs, taking those extra steps to help their clients manage their medication in a more practical way. 

John Kaliabakos, Director of Pharmacy Services, assists a client

John Kaliabakos, Director of Pharmacy Services, has been a pharmacist at Village Apothecary since 1994. He closely monitors the prescription profiles of over 500 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 later attended the Bronx High School of Science and earned his pharmacy degree from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy. John is a consummate New Yorker and has become an integral part of the healthcare provider system of the West Village and beyond. He has genuine compassion and empathy for the patients he serves.

Accolades, and Flexibility 

In 2019, Village Apothecary received a Commendation from the Mayor. This proclamation honored their contribution to the healthcare field through 30 years of service. 

Village Apothecary leadership with their city proclamation. Image from Westview News.

Village Apothecary has watched many of its neighbors on Bleecker Street pack up and leave the area due to rising rents. We also know that family-owned apothecaries struggle to stay in business with hefty competition from chains and the internet. Village Apothecary is thriving! It distinguishes itself by the personal touch of community and one-on-one service. They have been celebrated for their work and their staying power. 

According to Kaliabakos: 

As with many past crises NYC has faced, Village Apothecary has remained open during the pandemic and continues to serve the community. Particularly during a health crisis of this nature, it is paramount for patients to have access to pharmaceutical and medical care and we are committed to provide this to our patrons.

John Kaliabakos, Director of Pharmacy Services

COVID-19 is one of many challenges faced by Village Apothecary, and we are grateful for their dedication and work. And it’s not just us: thousands of patients consider Village Apothecary a true gem of New York City. So, we are thrilled to be awarding them a Village Award. Please RSVP here to participate in the award ceremony at 6pm on June 17, 2020 virtually.

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