Alfred H. Alessi, 83, pharmacist, owner of Towson drugstore

March 29, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Alfred H. Alessi, a pharmacist who owned a well-known Towson drugstore and soda fountain, died Wednesday at St. Joseph Medical Center from complications after surgery. He was 83 and lived in Hamilton.

From 1968 to 1984, in his white shirt and clip-on bow tie, Mr. Alessi presided over Asbill Pharmacy at Chesapeake and Washington avenues, an institution recalled for its soda fountain, its collection of repeat customers and as a source of local news and Baltimore County political and legal gossip.

Born in Elizabeth, N.J., and raised on East Oliver Street, he was a 1934 City College graduate. He earned a degree from the University of Maryland's School of Pharmacy in 1940 and was a Navy pharmacist's mate in a Guam hospital during World War II.

In 1947, he opened Alessi's Drugs at Kennedy Avenue and The Alameda near Clifton Park, a business he ran until 1952. He then worked at several local drugstores, including the Northern Rexall Pharmacy in Hamilton.

"He was of the old school and gave extremely good service to his patrons, and he was willing to mix special compounds," said Dr. William A. Sinton, a Towson pediatrician. "I had a favorite cough medicine formula that was good for children with croup. There were only a few pharmacies that would make it up. The chains would not do it."

Dr. Sinton recalled two of the pharmacist's daughters -- Karen Pipitone of Perry Hall and Trisha Kirk of Kingsville -- hand-delivering prescriptions in downtown Towson, and by car to residential neighborhoods and nursing homes.

"He was a pharmacist who wanted to do the right thing for the patient," said Marty Mintz, owner of Northern Pharmacy & Medical Equipment, who worked with Mr. Alessi from 1966 to 1968. "He was a jolly guy, honest and ethical, who enjoyed his work."

Former customers readily recalled his Asbill Pharmacy -- the name he kept on the business formerly owned by John L. Asbill -- located half a flight of steps below street level in the Mount Moriah Masonic Lodge, a Victorian edifice whose walls were built with terra cotta-colored brick.

The store was across from the Baltimore County Courthouse, National Guard Armory and post office. It had a classic soda fountain -- fabled for five-cent Coke and, for a penny extra, a cherry Coke made with ground-up bits of maraschino cherry. There was also a tub of Dad's oatmeal cookies that sold three for a nickel.

"We went there every Sunday after church," said Thomas S. Travers, owner of Wilson Heritage, a Towson lighting store. "It was a popular gathering place in a beautiful old building."

When the Masonic Building was demolished in the 1970s, Mr. Alessi moved the pharmacy to the second floor of the Towson House Restaurant, a few steps away on Chesapeake Avenue. After he closed Asbill in 1984, he became a part-time pharmacist and worked at nearby neighborhood drugstores.

Family members said Mr. Alessi began his days by doing two crossword puzzles. He was a regular at Pimlico Race Course and liked to take his children and grandchildren duckpin bowling at Seidel's on Belair Road.

In 1944, he married Mary Agnes Heiss. She died in 1997.

Services will be held at noon tomorrow at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

In addition to his daughters, he is survived by a son, Thomas Alessi of Perry Hall; another daughter, Nancy Alessi of Kintnersville, Pa.; and 10 grandchildren.

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