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Century-Old UES Drug Store Could Become Restaurant or Spa

By Amy Zimmer | October 9, 2012 8:58am

MANHATTAN — The stately storefront once home to the historic Lascoff Drugs store — an icon on the Upper East Side for more than a century  — might soon be replaced by an upscale restaurant or spa, according to the broker marketing the space.

Lascoff Drugs quietly moved out of its prime spot at 1209 Lexington Ave., at East 82nd Street, in July after occupying the building from when it was first completed about 1915. 

“It’s a great corner, a beautiful space,” Winick Realty Group LLC Executive Vice President Darrell Rubens said. “There’s really nothing on the market like it now, with its the high ceilings and a ground floor and mezzazine.”

With its 20-foot arched windows and 20-foot cathedral ceilings — not to mention its 115 feet of valuable sign opportunities on its façade — the space has long been considered a striking one in the neighborhood.

For the 1,600-square-foot ground floor and roughly 600-square-foot mezzanine and a basement, Winick is asking $36,000 a month, Rubens said, noting that the price per square foot is at least half of asking rents a few blocks north on East 86th Street.

“We’ve been getting a lot of interest from nice restaurants,” Rubens said. “There’s also been a lot of interest from some cool spas, who want to do similar to what Kiehl’s did [on Lexington and 64th Street] with a shop on the ground level and spa rooms up above.”

The owners of Lascoff chose to retire and sell the building, Rubens said, explaining that the new owner was committed to “fixing up” the space for the next tenant.

Residents, however, were very attached to the drug store, which was founded in 1899 and kept its charming interior crammed with apothecary jars on glass counters amid wood paneled walls — an old-world holdout in a sea of Duane Reades.

“Walking into this old-timey type drug store is like walking into a time warp,” Phil H. wrote on Yelp in 2008. “From the old-fashioned-era outside awning, to the faded pictures and newspaper clipping in the windows, to the artifacts inside of a time long gone by, just a very cool place to visit at least once.”

Its founder J. Leon Lascoff was heralded as having transformed the world of American pharmacists.  His shop was the first licensed pharmacy in New York State, and his obituary in 1943 was featured in Time Magazine. But he was not thoroughly modern: He was known to sell leeches to such customers as Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, according to Forgotten New York.

When there were no remaining Lascoffs to run the store, Phil Ragusa and a business partner took over in 1972 and preserved the old ways of the shop. Ragusa then bought out his partner in the 1990s and ran the shop alongside his second wife, Susan, who he met when she was a customer.

They ultimately divorced, his eldest daughter, Michelle Nicole said, explaining how that experience plus debilitating back issues, rheumatoid arthritis and being unable to compete with modern pharmacies forced him to retire and sell the building.

"I hope the new owners preserve its historical beautiful architecture into the business of their choosing," Nicole said.

It was “one of the last historic, grand pharmacies left,” wrote Judith G. wrote in her 2006 Yelp review, praising the shop’s helpful staff and it’s selection of sometimes pricey items that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

“All the famous Park Avenue doctors send their patients here,” she said. “I love to breathe the old world elegance in the air!”

Rubens said he looked forward to the possibilities of a new tenant transforming the space into something elegant again — especially a restaurant.

“I live on the Upper East Side and we don’t have that many nice restaurants here,” he said.