Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 17 December 2010 00:00
Frank Genovese and Eugene King were in Snouder’s Corner Drugstore on South Street in Oyster Bay, on Thursday morning, Dec. 9, behind the pharmacy counter where customers always saw them. The shelves of the drug store were bare and men were clearing out the final items from the store. Liquidators had been there earlier in the week.
“We were here for 34 years, to the day. We opened on Dec. 8. It just happened that way,” said Mr. King. He said he wasn’t ready to retire yet and was looking forward to finding a part time job as a pharmacist. “CVS wants people to work full time. I just want to work a day or two,” he said.
Frank Genovese, 74, said he was ready to retire. “It was time to retire, time to close. I’m ready,” said the Bayville resident. “It’s been a little tough the last few days. There were a lot of nice people here.” The men were sad to be leaving the friends they made of their customers.
Mr. King said the two have been good partners in the business. “We worked together in Bell & Halpern [a Glen Cove pharmacy] for seven years before taking over here. We’ve known each other forever,” he said. We balance each other out. That’s how partners usually work. They have different ideas and blend together, like a marriage.”
Mr. King said he lives in Glen Cove but actually, he said, it feels as if they both have really lived in Oyster Bay because of the business. “I’m a member of the Italian-American Club here.” He is more at home in Oyster Bay. “Glen Cove is a city. This is country. Here we are close to people. They come in and talk to us.”
Both men talked of how sorry they hadn’t been able to say good bye to all their customers. They had written a statement for the newspaper. “To all the patrons of Snouder’s Corner Drug Store, we would like to thank you for your loyalty over the past 34 years. It has been a pleasure to serve you and to know you.
“However, it is time for us to move on. We are sure that the transition through CVS in East Norwich will go smoothly. We wish you prosperity and good health,” it was signed, Frank Genovese and Gene King.
“It was a privlege to work in Snouder’s and meet people and make friendships with the customers. I will miss the hellos,” said Mr. King.
Mr. Genovese sighed, agreeing.
Not telling people about the transition to CVS was part of the sale. “CVS wanted it kept quiet until it was done. We were the guardians of the business that was passed on to us. We are sorry it had to end this way. We would have preferred to say goodbye,” said Mr. King, “But we couldn’t.”
A regular member of the staff, John Genovese who has been running the medical supply side of the business, as well as other parts of the business, was there Thursday as the rest of the equipment was packed up. He hopes he will find a job in the same field that he has become so knowledgeable in. He, too, had kind words for all their customers.
The building is for sale but they had no comments on how that was progressing. They said they felt as if they had been the guardians of the 126-year-old business. Arthur Snouder was the founder of the business. The store had the first telephone in Oyster Bay. It was where people called President Theodore Roosevelt when he was here during the summer – when Sagamore Hill became the summer White House. Folklore has it that Andrew Snouder rode his bicycle to Sagamore Hill to bring the president messages until they finally put a telephone in at the mansion.
Today, when you call the Snouder’s phone number, 922-4300 you get a recording saying that if you are a former Snouder’s customer calling to refill a prescription to press a button to be connected to the pharmacy.
CVS Manager Gino Leonardi, is a resident of Oyster Bay. “I’ve lived here all my life,” he said.
When asked what he would like to see done with the building, Mr. Leonardi said, “In the future I’d like to see it as a museum, like Raynham Hall next door. Sounder’s has been there since 1884, that’s a tremendous historic site. Having it as a museum would be fine.”
He said Eugene King would be working at the CVS in Pine Hollow for the next month, 30 hours a week to make the transition smooth, starting last Thursday.
Mr. King confirmed that he would be working at CVS greeting his regular customers and helping them make the transition.
OBHS Window Exhibit
The Oyster Bay Historical Society had recently created a window display in the northernmost window of Snouder’s on the South Street side.
OBHS Exective Director Phil Blocklyn said on Wednesday, “They closed quickly. The liquidators are there today. We were there taking out the decorations that were put in the window, and there were folks with laptops and we were told by Frank Genovese they were liquidators and that CVS took over the prescriptions.”
When asked what he thought would be a good use for the building, Mr. Blocklyn said, “They were saying it’s too big a space for retail. A corner restaurant is always good. You could get 12 tables in there. [Bus tours need a space big enough to hold 50 people.] It has nice windows which makes for a premium restaurant location. It has potential.”
Mr. Blocklyn was hopeful that the building could be restored. He said, “There are a lot of granting agencies that will help repair and restore historic buildings. They specialize in that sort of thing so it could be done.”
1800s Period Exhibit
The exhibit put up by the OBHS was in keeping with the period of the building. Taking it all down came as a surprise and with no knowledge of exactly what was happening at the site, they were afraid of losing the items from their collection as might happen in a bankruptcy, said Yvonne Noonan Cifarelli, OBHS curator.
She said, “On Monday, Nicole and Meghan dressed the store for Christmas. No one mentioned they were closing on Thursday until someone called us to confirm the story.”
Ms. Cifarelli described the little boudoir scene they put in place using material from the OBHS collection and last week added some garlands and poinsettias and lights for Christmas.
“Hal Johnson and I dismantled the display. The problem is the window glass has double panes and water got in leaving minerals. You can’t get it clean since it is in between the two panes. It was especially bad on the right side, really bad,” she said.
The window display contained items from the OBHS textile collection. “There was a maroon skirt and jacket from the late 1800s; and a feather hat; and a hat box from the collection. We added some props, a table; and wallpapered the background using a period wallpaper of birds; with material on the floor; and candlelight; and mirrors; and then the mannequin. Jackie Blocklyn brought the mannequin and we put the top and skirt on it and put the hat on the table. “I also brought a watercolor from my collection of a woman with red hair, in a big blue hat, done in the late 1800s. It was really pretty.
“The items in our collection were the period of the building. We created a sweet little dressing room for a woman of that era,” said the curator. “Dodds & Eder donated a very nice pink wrought iron bench. Phil brought the bench back. The work on the window was done during the middle of October, and it was finished Oct. 30.
“Because of the window problem, it was hard to see, but it was beautiful. People could see it as they walked by. It was charming, and the Oyster Bay Historical Society sign was there telling who we are.”
Ms. Cifarelli said, “We were installing the Boating on the Sound exhibit at the historical society and had only a little time to squeeze in the work on the window. It was a mess in there and we cleaned up and we squeegee-d the window. It is believed the windows came from the bank on the corner, where the Coin Gallery is now located. We tried to do a nice job and it was nice that they let us use it. We just didn’t know it was coming down so soon.”
Part of OB History
“We live in the Snouder’s former house on West Main Street. They lived there from 1883 to 1946. We have a picture of Mr. Snouder in the same rose garden that John now tends,” Mrs. Cifarelli said.
“I really went through the house to see if there were any unsent messages to TR,” she said.
“Hopefully the building can be renovated. The building is in the center of town. It might make a nice B&B or a wine bar; or a café, something where people could gather. That would be nice,” she said.
Hope for the Future
Isaac Kremer, Main Street Association executive director said, “There are substantial incentives for historic preservation including grants and tax credits that the building would qualify for - and the MSA has demonstrated through the Octagon Hotel and many other projects that it would be able to help get them.”
He added that, “There is a real appreciation of the historic nature of the hamlet. Appliance World just put in new copper flashing and the mansard roof was replaced.” It is just across West Main Street from Snouder’s Corner Drugstore.
“I really hope the town realizes this as a gateway to the town and to make this landmark building a priority and to help with any rebuilding,” Mr. Kremer said.
“We hope the town recognizes the importance of Snouder’s just as they did with the Octagon Hotel.
“It’s been a positive thing that the owners have maintained the business this long. They are part of the rich history of Oyster Bay. They have survived in this difficult economy especially with the competition for a small pharmacy and they need credit for continuing and for keeping their longtime customers. Hopefully they can get a return on their investment in whatever way that happens,” he said.
Mr. Kremer wasn’t sure what kind of business could be housed in the centrally located building, but said, “What would be appealing about the site is that the Snouder’s corner brings people into the heart of downtown. A café is possibly an idea, but I don’t know.”
A Landmark Property
Snouder’s Corner Drugstore is an Oyster Bay Town Landmark building and the owners worked with the Town of Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission for its renovation several years ago. At that time, paint samples from the building were used to decide on the use of the light green paint for the façade. The town gave an interest free loan for the work to be done. The town is unusual in terms of Landmark Preservation laws, as it allows about a 15 percent reduction of the town tax on landmark property. The owner must ask for the reduction each year.
As can be noted in the accompanying photographs, Snouder’s originally had striped awnings that were lowered during the summer – to keep it cool – before air conditioning. The town’s Landmarks Commission wanted them to be replaced. Snouder’s was concerned about the cost and the commission said they could put up mini-awnings to give the look of having them. They were never put in place.