Belle Harbor Chemists Celebrates 20 Years

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Twenty years ago, Rich Longo and Frank Stella took a chance on Rockaway. On April 4, 1997, they opened Belle Harbor Chemists and for the past two decades, the familiar friendly faces of the family-owned pharmacy and their personalized service have made Belle Harbor Chemists a neighborhood staple.

For 20 years, Belle Harbor Chemists has served as the neighborhood pharmacy for those uptown. It’s a quick stop for everyday over the counter needs, and of course, prescriptions, and some may prefer them for their quick turnaround, online refills and even delivery service.

Those who’ve been around may remember back in 1997 when the new pharmacy replaced the Belle Harbor Pharmacy. Longo and Stella, who come from a family of pharmacists, were both from Brooklyn, but thought Rockaway would be a good fit for their own pharmacy. Both were familiar with the neighborhood and business as they had worked at the pharmacy before owning it. “I worked with the old owner part time and I always thought Rockaway was a fantastic town. The people are so easy to deal with and there weren’t many stores around. In Brooklyn, there was a pharmacy on almost every corner. So this made Rockaway appealing, but it was really the people and how they treated me when I worked here that led me to believe that it would be a very successful pharmacy,” Longo said. After 20 years in business, even while competing with larger chains and online pharmaceutical sales, it’s clear that the small family-owned business has done something right.

Belle Harbor Chemists started on a small scale. “We used to fill a very small amount of prescriptions,” Longo said. But the small pharmacy grew with the neighborhood as locals got to know the staff behind the counter. “We’ve grown with the community. We’d see a couple that just got married, every once in a while, and now they have kids, so we’ve been lucky enough to take care of parents and their children, and even the parents’ parents. We’ve grown with the generations. We’ve gotten to know and have had to say goodbye to people. We addressed any challenges so that we could become successful. We took on more manpower so we could fill prescriptions more efficiently,” Longo said.

The staff and the customer service they provide have kept customers relying on Belle Harbor Chemists for their prescriptions. “We hired a delivery man, Les, whose full time job is to take care of everybody and make sure deliveries are there on time. Our manager, Jen, is here every day, so people have someone that’s constant. Frank and I alternate coming to the store, but customers always have someone familiar to turn to,” Longo said. It’s been that way since the start. “Most of the staff are locals. We had a lady named Pat who was with us from the beginning. She passed away a few years ago, but she was part of the fabric of the store. We also have Laura and Donna, who are both Rockaway locals, which is really nice because they know everyone by name and face.”

Longo believes that familiarity and personalized service is what keeps local families coming back to Belle Harbor Chemists. “We have that mom and pop feel of years ago. Older people tend to love the one-on-one time they get with us. Frank and myself are always here, so they have a friendly face, someone they can talk to, someone who knows what medication they’re on and can have a conversation about their health. For younger families, they like the delivery aspect and the quick service. We have a five to 10 minute wait maximum on all prescriptions, so if a parent needs medicine for their sick kid, we do it as quickly as we can because we understand that you can’t wait to make your children better. This is stuff that large chains can’t offer.”

The growth of the business allowed the store to grow as well. Some may remember that Belle Harbor Chemists was originally at 412 Beach 129th Street. The owners were renting that building, but in 2012, they began to build a new pharmacy from the ground up at 449 Beach 129th Street. Starting from the ground up allowed them to build a larger, modern location. “My brother-in-law, Joe, is an architect who designed this place. You can make a bland, vanilla store or put work into it and we chose to put the work in and make it because we consider this the town’s pharmacy. We want people to feel comfortable when they wait for a prescription,” Longo said.

As they built out the store, a major hiccup put construction on hold, but Belle Harbor Chemists was there for the community. “Hurricane Sandy wiped out the old store as we were building the new one, so we rented a trailer that sat in front of the old store and operated out of that. We own another store in Nassau County, so we were still able to get what people needed from our other store. We knew that almost every customer in Rockaway felt the consequences of the storm and that they were going through a terrible time and if they couldn’t get their prescriptions on top of it, it would only add more misery. Living out in Long Island, we felt very lucky that our homes weren’t affected, so we were more than happy to put in more time and energy so that people would have a place to come to at the trailer. We handed out water, gloves and hand warmers. At some point the Department of Health came down and said do what you have to do to take care of the people in this town and we felt empowered by that. It was really rewarding to hear people tell their story and just come and warm up and smile for a while and that’s when we really became a part of this town,” Longo said.

Belle Harbor Chemists has been celebrating their 20th year by giving back to the customers with giveaways. For the owners, lasting this long has been a reward in itself.  “We know that a lot of business don’t make it and we don’t count every year, but after 20, you can take a breath and say this is a great accomplishment and we’re very happy and proud to make it this long. It’s really a testament to the town we work in. It’s really nice coming to work in Belle Harbor.”

Belle Harbor Chemists is located at 449 Beach 129th Street. They’re open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Call 718-634-0001 for more info.

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