An occasional column about city life
The biggest news of the week arrived with old school simplicity – delivered by the post office in a letter that began:
“To Our Valued Customers and Friends of GREEN CROSS PHARMACY…we are retiring after 55 years. Green Cross Pharmacy has been sold and will be closing on March 6, 2019…”
The letter packed a wallop, but not because I would lose the services of my favorite drug store. Over the years, I have used other pharmacies offering more convenience, variety, or quicker service than Green Cross. For 11 years, I lived outside the neighborhood and never once considered coming back to the North End to use Green Cross.
Yet, when I moved back to the Waterfront, the Green Cross was one of the first places I stopped by to say “hello.” Freddie (Fernando), one of two Giangregorio brothers who presided over the hallowed pharmacy underneath the golden mortar and pestle on Hanover Street, remembered me right away. I was happy to tell him I had finally quit smoking.
Years ago, when I was struggling to stop my odious habit, I went into the Green Cross for quitting paraphernalia (patches, nicotine gum, and Italian mints). Freddie sympathized with my wanting to stop my addiction and he offered sage advice. He told me he had quit by focusing his attention immediately onto something else whenever he had the urge to light up. He said this diversion method would become unconscious after a while when I wanted a smoke and, with time, I would quell the need for a cigarette. He was right. Of course, patches, gum and mints helped, but Freddie’s guidance stuck with me. The advice was so modest but so true – kind of like Green Cross itself where, over the years, counsel and assistance for the sick and needy came packaged with minimal fuss.
Something about the Green Cross just made one feel better, with no drugs or steri-strips. The place offered analog comfort – harkening back to a quieter time of good citizenship and honest work. Freddie and his brother Joseph (Peppi) were not in the business to rip anybody off, or to cheat fragile souls out of their disability monies, or to make cash on the side by peddling anything illegal. If you call up Green Cross Pharmacy on Yelp, you read many stories about how people who didn’t have the right amount were sent off with their purchase and told to return when they had the money. “They didn’t even take down my name,” writes one amazed Yelper.
Of course, the Green Cross was always bucking trends. They didn’t take credit cards when everybody shopped with plastic. They were an independent pharmacy in an age when the big chain stores (CVS, Walgreens and their ilk) strangled the competition. They coped with the bureaucratic tangle of Big Pharma and the insurance behemoths. Green Cross also clung to a charming street corner in the North End through the shopping eras of malls and online.
When I stopped into the Green Cross after getting the news of its passing, Peppi was talking to customers swarming into the store to wish the brothers well. “We wanted to sell to someone who would run this as an independent, but we couldn’t find anybody,” he said. So the Giangregorios are selling their inventory and customer lists to CVS down the street. And, of course, they’re being very gracious about it. “CVS will be committed to giving you excellent service and quality patient care,” they write in their goodbye letter.
The family owns the Hanover Street building so Peppi will continue to live upstairs. Freddie and his family live in Revere, but he will surely come around the neighborhood. Still, the North End is diminished by the loss of the Green Cross, which contributed immeasurably to the Italian authenticity and flavor of the place.
If I am comforted by anything about the closing of the Green Cross Pharmacy, it’s the knowledge these two distinguished Giangregorio brothers, 82 and 80 years old, retire with unparalleled dignity and good feelings. They achieved what many of us hope will be our legacy – a long career unblemished by tackiness, corruption and vice. They go out on the side of the angels. May they have every speck of health and happiness in the leisure years.
We send them off with a salute the ancient Romans reserved only for their most distinguished citizens: Ave atque vale (Hail and farewell) Freddy and Peppi.
Monica Collins is a writer who lives on the Waterfront with her husband, Ben Alper, and dog, Dexter.