The Greenway Pharmacy is indeed moving, but its prescription remains the same

Jacques Kelly

June 10, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower had lunch there. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald bought aspirin at the counter. Descendants of George Washington and two signers of the Declaration of Independence still shop at this Charles Village institution. You might not suspect all this of the seemingly shy and retiring Greenway Pharmacy, which has served as apothecary to a select Charles Street trade since 1919.

This week, the little store that still delivers prescriptions to customers' homes is moving from its unpretentious berth at Charles and Greenway. It's taking up new residence in the Ivy Hall Apartments, in the first block of E. 33rd St.

"I think 72 years in one place is a rarity," said Melvin Levy, the pharmacist who has owned the store since 1975. Many of his customers are from old-line families who don't care for chain drugstore outlets.

Levy is moving because Johns Hopkins University, which owns the McCoy Hall Apartments, formerly the Greenway Apartments, is renovating the building at 3401 N. Charles St. and offered Levy a spot just around the corner.

"Everything else will remain the same, especially the phone number," he said. That unchanged phone number, a 235 (BELmont) exchange, is more than 50 years old. And even though the Hopkins campus is to be smoke-free, the pharmacy still will sell tobacco products. "It's a grandfather clause," Levy said.

There is much of a grandfather's time and place about the old pharmacy, quartered in a discreet setting amid 1920s' apartment buildings. The shop's walls are hospital green, with counters full of such old-fashioned sundries as Williams' bar shaving soap, the kind used in a shaving mug.

The Greenway Pharmacy is a holdover from the days of independently owned neighborhood drugstores. It was here that neighborhood chitchat was exchanged and the magazine and paperback book rack served as an informal library.

"The word I'd use to describe this place is genteel," Levy said, as evidenced by the numerous books by Baltimore writer Anne Tyler in the book rack.

The Greenway's popular soda fountain closed in the 1970s, a time of heavy casualties among small restaurants in drugstores. Before then, people dropped by for a milk shake or chocolate soda made from Meadow Gold ice cream or to take out prepackaged Louis Sherry ice cream.

"I was behind the lunch counter the day Mamie Eisenhower came in. She had all these Secret Service men with her," said Lillian Little, a woman who has become synonymous with the Greenway since 1949. She knows most customers by name.

"We were known for our soda fountain and lunch counter. People stood in the aisles for our hamburger-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches," Little said.

Little also is known for her friendly telephone voice, perfect handwriting and delightful manner with customers.

"I don't like this thing very much," Little said of an automatic, digital cash register that shows the amount of change a customer is due.

"The sisters who taught me wouldn't like this at all. I was taught how to figure amounts," Little said of the "excellent" education she received years ago at St. Frances Academy in the 500 block of E. Chase St.

"When I was in school, I worked up in Roland Park at the old Morgan Millard drugstore, long before it became a restaurant. It was a big place, too big for me. I preferred the Greenway. I got to know people better," she said.

James Price, now a Hopkins University employee, dropped in the old store the other day to chat. He used to drive the Greenway's delivery truck and knew "every apartment house from the Horizon House to Ruxton."

The truck Price drove was the Greenway's best piece of advertising.

"In those days, you could never put a neon sign or picture window on Charles Street," recalled Morton L. Pollack, who owned and operated the Greenway from 1955 to 1975.

"So I took a brass mortar and pestle my grandmother carried over from Russia and had it copied by a man who made parade floats. The copy was a big, heavy thing.

"We mounted it on the top of the little truck -- it was so heavy it needed extra inside bracing. That mortar and pestle were known all over north Baltimore," Pollack said.

So many Hopkins luminaries came through the store that Pollack established an oversize scrapbook called "Greenway Greats." Each time a professor/customer made Life Magazine or some other publication, the pharmacist clipped the article and it went into the book.

The Greenway Pharmacy was mentioned in the 1968 novel "Vanished," written by Fletcher Knebel, who also wrote the best seller "Seven Days in May." The drugstore made it into print because of its proximity to Hopkins.

"I remember the day Mamie Eisenhower came in. Her brother-in-law, Milton, was the president of the university. She got out of her car and a bee flew in with her. She kept waving her arms until it went away," Pollack said.

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