‘Stemple’-r times 80-year-old pharmacist closes longtime shop for good

After 74 years, Stemple Pharmacy at Seventh Street and Willow Avenue closed its doors for the last time Monday afternoon.

Retiring pharmacist Marvin Stemple, 80, who had followed in his father’s footsteps, has been a constant presence behind the counter for more than 40 years. He is a reminder of the way business used to be done, with a personal connection to his patrons and clientele.

"They knew him, and he knew them," remarked resident Connie Coppola, 52, who has known Stemple since she was 5. She added that the pharmacy was a community meeting place. "A lot of the seniors are really broken-hearted," she said. "You don’t find pharmacists anymore that have the time to sit and talk. He is going to be missed terribly."

Stemple’s style harkens back to a bygone era, when the activity of compounding specific mixtures and elixirs embodied the pharmacist’s craft.

When Stemple took over the store in the 1960s, a bottle of aspirin was a mere 49 cents and most prescriptions could be filled for around a dollar.

Stemple’s father, Louis, had opened the store in 1929 and worked at the counter for the better part of three decades.

"I always took it for granted that I would go into pharmacy," said Stemple.

The store still has the original 1929 metal ceiling and authentic woodwork. The Art Deco style sign that hangs over the front door is a local landmark, and will be preserved by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Museum officials are also preparing an oral history to mark the shop’s closing.

Changing world of pharmacy

It’s been decades since Stemple has had to make compounds using a mortar and pestle, now that prepackaged medicines are the norm. Custom-made products are increasingly considered exotic.

"The neighborhood pharmacy has become passé," said Stemple Monday morning

As he talked, he was interrupted nearly every minute by longtime customers and friends who stopped by to wish him well in retirement.

But it’s more than just the craft that has changed. The larger CVSes and Rite-Aids of the world will never achieve the individualized service of the neighborhood pharmacy, he said.

"My customers really are part of my family," he said. "I’ve watched them grow; I’ve been to their weddings, birthday parties, christenings and confirmations. The reason that I stayed in business as long as I have is because of the relationships that I have developed in this neighborhood."

Surprise party

That bond with his community has not gone unnoticed. Last Sunday, more than 50 of his friends and customers threw a surprise retirement party for Stemple. "It was the least we could do," said Coppola, who helped organize the party.

"When I saw everyone there, I was overcome with emotion," said Stemple. "There were lots of tears and hugs."

He said that his retirement stirs up a wide range of mixed emotions. "On one hand," he said, "I’m sad that I won’t be here for them anymore, but on the other, I still have my health and have the opportunity to get out and enjoy retirement."

Longtime friend and neighbor Jack Raslowsky II said that if anyone deserves retirement, it’s Stemple.

"He epitomizes everything that is good about the neighborhood pharmacist," said Raslowsky. "He has taken good care of the people in this neighborhood. For many he has been both pharmacist and therapist."

Now it is time for Stemple to gracefully sail into retirement with his wife of 52 years, Shirley, whom he met while working at Walter Reade Hospital in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s. First, the couple plans to visit family, and then they look forward to taking a nice long cruise.


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