The new old: Tisane Pharmacy blends European, American, past, present elements

NEW YORK — One of the advantages to independent pharmacies' small scale is their ability to forge their own identities and invent new store formats in a way that might be harder for a national or regional chain.

New York, with its famously competitive pharmacy market and diverse population, has long been a hotspot for new store formats, and one of the products of this dynamic environment is Tisane Pharmacy, located in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Pharmacy school classmates Inna Shafir and Yelena Yoffe opened the store on Labor Day with the idea of creating a pharmacy that emphasized natural care and comfort. Both also own pharmacies elsewhere in the city.

The store's most visible feature is the cafe counter near the entrance, a feature that used to be common in American drug stores — which gave rise to the soda jerk — but has mostly disappeared. The cafe serves coffee, tea, pastries and sodas made with syrups dispensed from a glass apparatus that Shafir and Yoffe had to have a friend personally bring over from their native Russia. Another reason for the cafe is that it gives patients — or their kids — something to do while they're waiting for prescriptions to be filled.

"What we try to achieve is a friendly environment," Yoffe told Drug Store News.

But another distinctive feature is the store's focus on natural products, as well as hard-to-find brands imported from France, Germany, Poland, Israel and other countries. The store also carries a large selection of herbal teas, reflective of its name, which is a term for herbal tea.

"That's what we both like, and that was the idea, to promote healthy teas," Yoffe said, recalling how when she would frequently get sick as a child, her grandmother would give her raspberry leaf tea to bring down her fevers.

"As much as the dynamic is characteristically American, it's also reminiscent of Europe," cafe manager Ben Lundberg said. Lundberg and Yoffe said the cafe had become popular among people in the area, especially those trying to get away from the noise resulting from construction of New York's 2nd Avenue subway. "It's really turned into a neighborhood spot," Lundberg said.