BROADWAY — Looking to stop those hot flashes? How about a remedy made from snake venom. Having some stomach pain? Try a small dose of arsenic.
These are probably unfair examples given that most of the Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy remedies are far less exotic. When you walk into their Broadway store — with exception of the photo wall featuring celebrity customers and the fact that several people greet you — it feels like any mainstream pharmacy.
But perhaps most notably, the pharmacy is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month. In an era when decade-old restaurants and stores are being replaced by chains and boutiques, the pharmacy has weathered all kinds of changes.
The story starts with Norman and Mary Litvak.
“My father graduated University of Buffalo Pharmacy School in 1932,” said Bob Litvak, their son and current proprietor of the pharmacy. “They taught him homeopathy. The schools weren’t controlled by the pharmaceutical industry in those days.”
Bob Litvak is 74-years-old but looks a decade younger and has a youthful energy. He and his brother run the pharmacy together. Their parents lived into their 90s — they died in the early 2000s.
The family moved to California in 1943 and it took a year for Norman to get licensed in the state.
“He did work in another pharmacy for that time but as soon as he had his license he wanted to have his own pharmacy,” Bob said. “He preferred not to work for other people. He worked for himself.”
In 1944, they opened up shop on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street as the Santa Monica Drug Company.
“In those days it was just like any other pharmacy in the area,” Bob said. “As far as the products, we sold alcohol in the early years. We sold tobacco. My father filled all prescriptions. The one difference was that we had some homeopathic remedies. That made us a little more unique.”
But over time, those homeopathic remedies took center stage.
In 1951, Bob remembers his father telling his mother: “I don’t care if it makes money, I did not become a pharmacist to harm my customers.”
With that, the liquor was gone.
In the early 1960s they got rid of the tobacco.
Narcotics went around the same time. Norman would dispense little boxes of the narcotics for Los Angeles County, with many of them going to war veterans, who were sleeping at the Veterans Association.
“The problem was, as my father figured out,” Bob said, “the doctors were giving them amphetamines in the morning to wake them up and get them out, and barbiturates to put them to sleep.”
One day, someone stopped by to tell him that a war veteran in his 40s — a regular — had died.
“Find someone else,” Bob remembers his father telling the county. “I won’t do it anymore.”
They put a sign in the window: “No hard drugs.”
In 1967, City Hall took the property and Litvaks moved across the street, where they stayed until 1994. They’ve been on Seventh Street and Broadway ever since.
Today they employ a pharmacist, homeopaths, nutritionists, and Chinese herbalists, who also practice acupuncture.
They have shelves and shelves of remedies from all over the world and a very small warehouse — everything is fresh, Litvak said.
They have a long list of celebrity customers from over the years —Mel Gibson, Whoopie Goldberg, Goldie Hawn was an early customer — but there are even more regulars, people who have been coming in for decades. The place is bustling on a Friday afternoon.
Bob pointed to Donna Thomas, of Santa Monica, who’d stopped in for a few things.
“She’s been coming by for years,” he said.
Thomas guessed that she first came to the pharmacy in 1992, when the store was still on Fourth Street.
“They supported me when I was choosing not to vaccinate my daughter,” she said. “I was really concerned about it. They gave me everything I needed to know. They showed me books. They gave me people to talk to. Whenever I have anything going on I feel completely supported. It’s not how I feel when I go to a doctor. “
He daughter, who is in her late teens, has only been to a doctor once in her life.
“She’s healthy as a horse,” Thomas said. “Knock on wood.”
“I’ve been able to handle everything here,” she added, laughing. “I come here more often than I go to the grocery store.”