(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
In 1954, NBC aired the first television broadcast in color, the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional, and Ted Williams was playing left field for the Red Sox. It cost 3 cents to mail a letter — which people still did — and 21 cents for a gallon of gasoline. It was good that prices were so low, since the average family income was $4,200, according to the US Census Bureau.
A lot has changed in the past 57 years, but one thing that has remained comfortingly consistent for local residents is the Hyde Park Pharmacy at 1461 River St., owned since 1954 by A. Richard “Richy” Ferzoco. One of the few remaining drugstores that includes a lunch counter, this neighborhood institution has seen generations of customers through bouts of the flu, thousands of tuna melts, and countless lottery tickets.
A recent remodel of the counter area has spruced the place up a bit, but overall it’s much the same as it was 10 years ago, or 20, or 50 — and regulars wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ferzoco, 82, still comes into work seven days a week and runs the unusual pharmacy/luncheonette/community center with the help of daughters Patty and Paula Ferzoco, a handful of employees, and a few loyal volunteers.
Ferzoco said it’s the unusual mix the store offers that has allowed it to survive as chain drugstores have made it increasingly difficult for small, independent shops to compete.
“The big stores are kicking the daylights out of us as far as prescriptions are concerned, but we got the fountain business, and we got the lottery business, and a little bit of liquor business,” Ferzoco said. “So it’s a combination of all three, but it’s getting tougher and tougher.”
Still, many mornings will find the place packed with diners hungry for an old-fashioned bacon-and-eggs breakfast cooked fresh before their eyes on the grill. And the prices almost seem like they could come from 1954, with the most expensive breakfast plate topping out at $6.75.
Regulars appreciate the fresh eggs and buttery toast, but they come just as much for the company. Some have become part of the Ferzocos’ “extended family,” Patty Ferzoco said, and taken on responsibilities around the store.
Jack Donovan, 59, worked at the pharmacy until he graduated high school in 1969, and he got his coffee there every morning for the many years he was an iron worker just down the street. Since retirement, he has come in six days a week at 5:45 a.m. — unpaid — to help open the store, sell lottery tickets for a couple of hours, and spend the day with the Ferzocos and other friends.
“It’s a lifelong habit, that’s what it is,” said a smiling Donovan, who grew up nearby and said his mother still lives “around the corner.”
Danny Dalia, 84, has lived in Hyde Park for almost 50 years and has been coming to the pharmacy since the 1970s. These days he comes in seven days a week to sit with Donovan and other regulars in a row of chairs near the shelves of over-the-counter medications. He’s also a volunteer — responsible for keeping those shelves organized — but he admits he creates as much disruption as he does order.
“I tease people,” he grinned.
Dalia said he appreciates the camaraderie he finds in the pharmacy and the way everyone is welcome there, whether young or old, new to the neighborhood or born and raised there.
“They’re like a family to me,” he said of the Ferzocos. “They treat you very well here.”
Without the pharmacy as a place to spend the day, Dalia said, “I’d probably drop dead.”
Some sit and stay in the pharmacy, while others just pass through, but almost everyone in the neighborhood makes it in now and again. Patty Ferzoco, 44, said it is not just a gathering place but a source for finding out what’s happening in the neighborhood.
“It’s kind of a center for local news,” she said, noting that sometimes former residents who have returned for a visit will stop in to ask what they’ve missed.
It’s that central role in the community that makes the pharmacy an important resource for City Councilor Robert Consalvo, a lifelong Hyde Park resident who said he visits the pharmacy almost every day. At times it acts like a district office for him, a place where he meets with community members and where they know they can drop off things they need to get to him.
“It’s my first stop in the morning when I leave the house, to grab my coffee, to see constituents, to see friends, and to support the local business,” Consalvo said. “The Hyde Park Pharmacy is more than just a pharmacy or a coffee shop. It’s an institution in our neighborhood and one of the glues that hold our neighborhood together.”
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)