Cocaine Break-ins and Broadway Strolls: The Life of a 1960s Brooklyn Pharmacist

Frishberg and his wife Sally, far left, on East 13th Street in Midwood circa the mid 1950s

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A lifelong Brooklynite, Kenny Frishberg, this writer’s grandfather, began working at Fair Trade Pharmacy in Midwood in 1954. In the nearly 40 years he worked there — he retired in 1993 –he watched Brooklyn change and morph all the while he filed prescriptions. 

Frishberg remembers commuting to the now-closed Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York from his home in Bed Stuy, visiting his then-girlfriend (now wife) at her home on East 13th Street in Midwood. Her parents bought the house for $25,000 in 1953, and the couple still lives there today. He remembers when there were five pharmacies from Ocean Parkway to Dahill Road (today there are only two), and he remembers when the Verizon store at 418 Avenue P was his pharmacy.

Brownstoner chatted with Frishberg about Brooklyn past and present.

What’s your favorite story about running the pharmacy?

The guy who wanted cocaine came in with a shotgun underneath his raincoat. I remember Diane [a coworker] says, “The man wants to talk to you.” He opens up his shotgun at me. I have no idea if it was loaded or not, but I sat down and told myself “stay very calm.” When he wanted cocaine I explained we didn’t have any cocaine, we didn’t have any since the last break-in. But I started giving him a shopping list: tylenol number 4, codeine, quaaludes.

What do you think running a drugstore in Brooklyn today would be like today?

I don’t think it’s changed very much in terms of the filling of the prescriptions — it’s just there’s more paperwork involved.

Depending on the neighborhood, I think the customers are pretty much the same. I think it would be safer than in the ’60s and the ’70s, when the crime rate was rather high and we had a lot of break-ins. We had at least one robbery a year. The pharmacy was held up at gunpoint three times. It was scary.

Did the crime have a significant impact on business?

We started closing earlier and earlier. Fewer and fewer people were going out at night. Eventually we were closing at 8 o’clock instead of 10.

Brooklyn Pharmacy

New York City 1980s tax photo via PropertyShark. Although the pharmacy was named Fair Trade, Hudson Vitamins — a product the pharmacy sold at the time — paid for the sign

What neighborhoods did you grow up in and do you feel they’ve changed significantly since you were young? 

I was born in Bed Stuy. When I got married to Sally we moved to Midwood. Now the neighborhood’s becoming more religious.

How can you tell Midwood is becoming more religious?

When Sally’s parents moved in [in 1953], they were the only religious family on the block. The block was mixed — Jewish and Italian — but as the years went on the families that were moving in were all shomer shabbas [observant]. No non-Jewish families moved into the neighborhood. As the non-Jewish families moved out, Orthodox families moved in. The only people who were buying in our neighborhood were Orthodox families.

Now anybody who sells, they’re just selling to young Orthodox families.

Brooklyn Pharmacy

The former pharmacy today. Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

When did your family come to Brooklyn?

My father came here in 1923 at the age of 23. My mother was 16 — she was an orphan, and she came to stay with her brother Hyman in Bed Stuy. Bed Stuy was mostly Jewish and Italian, and some Irish, at least where we lived.

My father, first he started to work in the butcher shop for a short period of time, and then he drove a truck. He would deliver beer and soda to private homes. Mostly in Queens and Manhattan.

What would you do for fun?

When we were teenagers, we went to Brighton Beach at least once a week over the summer. I never went on the roller coaster when I was a child. We never went to the Steeplechase because it was expensive.

When we [Sally and I] were in high school — that’s when we met — our date would be going on a walk on a busy street called Broadway. The elevated subway was still there. So we’d walk hand in hand all the way up to Dekalb and one of the movie theaters. Then we’d get an ice cream at the parlor on the way back.

Brooklyn Pharmacy

The Frishbergs in the doorway of their home in Midwood

Brooklyn Pharmacy

Frishberg as a young man in Midwood

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