173 years strong

Inside view of New York City's oldest apothecary, with modern day amenities.

Downtown on Manhattan’s Sixth Ave. sits what is not only a neighborhood staple, but an international icon of apothecaries, C.O. Bigelow. At nearly 200 years old and still family owned and operated, C.O. Bigelow is the classic New York City apothecary in a bustling metropolis. Actors, models, locals, tourists and sightseers in New York City stop in at C.O. Bigelow through word of mouth, or for simply just needing that “hard to find can’t live without item”. I typically stop by C.O. Bigelow before traveling to stock up on my travel-size goods, or refill a prescription.

Once inside, one notices the wooden, century-old shelves as well as the designer nail lacquers, bustling pharmacy and signature skin care line, all side by side in what Ian Ginsberg, grandson of the proprietors refers to as “the apothecary for everyone”. Today, Ian has taken the classic New York City apothecary national, with C.O. Bigelow’s now open in Columbus, Ohio and Chicago.

I spoke with Ian recently about the history, the brand expansion and why he still loves the 173-year old apothecary.

After more than a century in New York City, what do you think keeps people coming back to C.O. Bigelow?

Ian Ginsberg: I think it’s a lot of things, but at the essence it’s the old world service in a modern world. No matter how young or old or where in the world you come from there’s some memory of your mom dragging you to see the pharmacist. In the digital age and big box age so much has changed in the way we shop and interact at the retail level. For the most part, the shopping experience has become so impersonal. While we’ve welcomed many of the changes, the apothecary experience is one of those we didn’t want taken away. There’s a feeling you get when you step inside C.O. Bigelow unlike any other place; it’s almost like visiting with a friend. Sometimes you’ll see something you’ve never seen before or sometimes you’ll just pick up something you need but you’ll always leave learning something new.

Once inside, C.O. Bigelow has an authentic feel to it, yet is well stocked with the classics such as Trumpers and Acqua di Parma and also modern brands like Tatcha and NARS. How do you maintain the balance?

IG: C.O. Bigelow is a collection of our favorite things as well as our own things. A well edited selection of the best of the best in beauty and personal care from around the world. After 173 years, we have a point of view on what makes a great product. Our credo is “Genuine, Honest and Trustworthy.” Our customers trust us and we have an obligation to be truthful and genuine. We have a view towards the classics of the past, products which always remain truly great products and always on eye towards great products of the future. For us to fall in love a product has to deliver on so many levels and the litmus test is the customer. We know what we like and we know what she likes.

What prompted you to expand the brand outside of NYC?

IG: From the moment I started here full-time right out of pharmacy school I knew that we had something. I spent the first bunch of years focusing on the in-store experience…what happens when she steps inside. Afterwards, I focused on the assortment and then I moved on to branding. We had a warehouse full of history…books, bottles, recipes, photographs and archives. You can create a company overnight but you could never create this. The American apothecary is an institution and I knew that we had to bring C.O. Bigelow to the world. I wasn’t in a hurry. We started slowly but when all the pieces were in place we made our move.

As a professional pharmacist, what are your top pick for winter skincare and maintenance?

IG: The winter weather is treacherous on your skin, the elements take a toll. In the city we all live the immense dryness of the air from our heaters. You need to make sure that you maintain some type of humidity in the home usually between 30-50% depending on comfort level. Most apartment dwellers in the city could find an ultrasonic humidifier pretty useful. For the body we make a range of products called Derma Remedy Intense Dry Skin Body Wash and Body Lotion. It’s like a 1-2 punch to break the dry skin cycle. It’s the 3-day cure for dry skin. Gently exfoliate your skin with a loofah in the shower and follow with Derma Remedy Body Wash and Body Lotion. For hands try our Chapped Hands Cleanser and Chapped Hands Remedy, another 1-2 punch for an instant cure. Our Chapped Hands Cleanser is a surfactant-free cleanser that leaves your hands clean and moisturized, almost like a paraffin bath for your hands.

What is it you love most about Bigelow?

IG: There are so many things I love about Bigelow. I love the staff, I love the customers but I just love helping people. Whether it’s a medical or health issue or just recommending the right skin care regimen or hair product, it’s a great feeling. People come from all over to scour our shelves but more importantly to ask questions and get real answers…it’s a lost service. We take people out of their hectic lives just for a moment and offer them a safe haven. People are so used to not finding what they want or not getting the answers to their questions, it’s so nice to be the “go-to” place.

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