Last week, I was scouting around 145th Street at night, which gave me the perfect opportunity to shoot one of my favorite neon signs in all its glory: Mishkin’s Drugs.
I love this sign. Part of it is its simplicity and compact dimensions; part of it is the perfect color combination of blue, red, and yellowy-orange. And “Mishkin’s” is such a great name.
Also, I love that they included “DRUGS” on the outer edge of the sign:
As I was taking pictures, it suddenly occurred to me – I’d never actually been in Mishkin’s.
According to the sign, Mishkin’s has been a drug store since 1890, making it a whopping 123 years old.
From the outside, there’s a ton of neat little details that take you back to the olden days of pharmacies. My favorite? The classic chopped-corner entrance with “Mishkin Drugs” written on the pole. You can practically feel the lingering spirits of kids from the 1950s rushing past to buy the latest issues of 10 cent comic books.
Then I stepped inside, and found myself transported back in time.
For starters, the store is covered in wood-paneling, which screams its age at every turn.
From medicines lining the wood shelving…
…to the old drawers behind the counter…
…to the cardboard boxes stacked on shelves overhead, Mishkin’s might as well be a time machine.
Best of all are the numerous wooden ladders lining the walls throughout the store, which slide along on little wheels:
Another ladder, hidden behind some shelves:
Seriously: stand in the middle and let the place wash over you, and it will suddenly feel like Humphrey Bogart might suddenly walk in and shake down the druggist for some information on a mysterious falcon statue.
According to the store’s website, Mishkin’s was started in 1890 by a Russian Jewish immigrant. Later, it appears that Mishkin’s became a New York chain, with a location at 116 W 14th Street by 1964 and another on Columbus. A third Mishkin’s still exists in Brooklyn at Broadway & Kosciusko Street. The Mishkin’s at 145th was purchased by its current owners, Mr. & Mrs. Yoo, around 30 years ago.
Overhead, a classic tin ceiling:
Another great detail: this ancient light-up “Medicines” sign. One can only guess how many decades ago this was last functioning:
Also hanging from the ceiling, a vintage sign for S&H Green Stamps, which shoppers once collected from stores and gas stations and could trade in for products from the S&H catalog. Green Stamps were in use from the 1930s through the 1980s.
Another feature not to be missed is the wonderful hex-tile floor, featuring a colorful pattern that zig-zags around the store:
Here, it continues on the other side:
There’s an insignia in the dead-center, sadly obscured by this shelving unit. Maybe a pharmacy logo of some kind?
But if there’s one element that’ll immediately drop you into The Big Sleep, it’s the pair of telephone booths at the front:
Complete with light-up signs and working doors, it doesn’t get much more classic than this:
Alas, the phones are now gone. Blame the phone company, who gutted them in the 90s.
There are even relics from more recent decades, such as this sign telling patrons that any product containing the artificial sweetener saccharin will soon bear a warning label. Such signs were distributed in 1978 when saccharin was found to cause cancer in lab rats (later to be reversed in 2000):
One last little bit I only noticed when going through my pictures later at home…
A stenciled “Mishkin’s Drug Store” sign over the entrance, now obscured from the outside by a rollgate. You’ve seen this in old movies – this is the real deal:
When people think of New York’s classic pharmacies, the Kiehl’s stores, founded in 1851, are usually the first to come to mind. But what I love about Mishkin is that it’s managed to survive without feeling like a museum piece, or worse, a historical gem repurposed with hollow modern flare and minus the wear and tear of decades that is its soul.
In other words, take this scene: an old wooden ladder on wheels. A stooped-over hulk of a radiator. A rusting stamp machine. A dirty white-tiled floor. This shouldn’t exist in the 21st century, save for some nostalgic store recreation.
Except, somehow, it does exist: at Mishkin’s.