Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy, one of the first drug stores to embrace natural medicine, celebrates its 70th anniversary on Wednesday

Mary and Norman Litvak, right, pose in front of their store — soon to become one the nation’s first exclusively homeopathic pharmacies — in 1950

Mary and Norman Litvak, right, pose in front of their store — soon to become one the nation’s first exclusively homeopathic pharmacies — in 1950

By Coby Kindles

In the days that ads proclaimed “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette,” Norman and Mary Litvak started a drug store in Santa Monica that would become one of the first of its kind to eschew selling smokes, booze and powerful prescription pills in favor of homeopathic remedies.

Exactly 70 years ago come Wednesday — Oct. 8, 1944 — the Santa Monica Drug Co. opened its doors at 4th Street and Broadway. At first, the pharmacy and soda fountain catered to returning World War II veterans, seeing its revenues climb with alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical sales. But then there was always that one little shelf of curious natural remedies that Norman Litvak had heard about in pharmacy school.

After learning of a customer’s barbiturate overdose in the 1960s, the Litvaks decided to forgo the sale of narcotics — they’d already dropped alcohol and tobacco — and the Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy was born.

“My parents’ main concern was the health of the consumer. They put people before profit and integrity before income,” said Bob Litvak, who now operates the store with his brother Don. “My parents would say, ‘When you can help somebody feel better and they come back and thank you, it’s all worth it.’”

By comparison, it was only this year that CVS made national headlines by ceasing tobacco sales.

The Litvaks ran their pharmacy 10 hours per day, seven days per week, and would move the store twice, finally settling on its current location at 629 Broadway after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Meanwhile, the legacy of Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy became a model for integrated pharmacies throughout the world.

Today, customers consult with licensed nutritionists, herbalists, homeopaths and pharmacists — even an acupuncturist. They can’t legally diagnose patients, but state-licensed providers can tell people their options and make informed recommendations.

“We try to get down to the root of the problem,” said store acupuncturist Kristin Rotblatt. “We pick up on things doctors no longer remember to ask about because their whole idea is what drug will repress what symptom.”

Litvak said holistic medicine’s real rise in popularity began about 20 years ago, as the public became more aware of options available outside of Western medicine.

“Drugs are just putting a Band-Aid on the symptoms, but our treatment addresses issues at the foundational level,” he said. “We believe that prescription drugs are not only questionable, but many have accidental consequences.”

Homeopathic remedies, on the other hand, are “safe for infants, children, nursing mothers — anyone,” Litvak said.

He urges people to take proactive responsibility for their own health as well as the health of their children and pets. That’s right, pets. The store even carries homeopathic products for animals.

Staff herbalist Elita Toscano said what makes Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy special is that shoppers have access to the expertise of so many specialists, some of whom have worked there for more than 15 years. In addition to English, staff members speak German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Tagalog.

Litvak believes maintaining a personal touch has been a secret to the business’s success.

“People whose grandparents brought them here are now adults — they remember my parents,” he said. “The funny thing is I wasn’t interested in pharmacy. Neither was my brother, who was an air traffic controller. Neither are our children, who are very successful in their chosen fields. But here we are.”

Or as customer Mitzy Robinson, who treks all the way from Beverly Hills, put it: “They care. That’s important.”

In celebration of its 70th anniversary, Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy has scheduled a series of health lectures, raffles and product giveaways throughout the month. For more information, call (310) 395-1131 or visit smhomeopathic.com.

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