In 1875, Chicago pharmacist Peter Merz opened a small drugstore on the city’s North Side. Being of Swiss descent, Merz decided to call the store an “Apothecary” in the European tradition. Even from the beginning, Merz Apothecary set itself apart.
At that time, your neighborhood drugstore was not only a place to fill prescriptions, but a source of information and remedies for common ailments. Pharmacists were consulted like family doctors and they would hand mix formulas for each specific customer. However, Merz Apothecary differed from the typical American drugstore because the clientele were mostly European immigrants. Like European apothecaries, Merz focused heavily on herbal medicines and traditional formulas, which were already popular with its international customers.
Although Merz Apothecary was a humble store, it served as a gathering place for the community. Comfortable leather chairs allowed patrons to sit and chat as they waited for their remedies to be prepared. Merz and his pharmacists spoke many languages, allowing customers to shop and seek advice in their native tongues. The store’s reputation steadily spread, and the business continued to grow over the next 85 years. Heralded by several generations of the Merz family, the store retained its international focus and developed a devoted following among Europeans throughout the Midwest.
In the early 1960s, competition from large chain drugstores began driving independent pharmacies out of business. But Merz Apothecary’s loyal customer base and traditional herbal approach to health allowed it to thrive during this difficult period. Customers continued to seek out the advice of Merz’s experienced pharmacists and request their hand-mixed formulas.
Despite the success of the business, in 1972 Ralph Merz was ready to retire without a successor, and the store was about to close permanently. One month before the scheduled closing, a 26-year-old Indian-born pharmacist named Abdul Qaiyum walked into Merz Apothecary after hearing about it from his German in-laws. He immediately fell in love with the store. With its focus on natural remedies, Merz reminded him of his family’s business and the healing traditions in his homeland. He purchased it a few days later.