UPPER WEST SIDE — After 32 years, Keith Lewis fulfilled his dream of opening a pharmacy — and he can't stop grinning.
"I can't believe it finally happened," he beamed.
Lewis has teamed up with his college buddy and longtime friend Larry Hoss to open the 79th Street Pharmacy on 79th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam avenues, bucking the trend toward massive, multi-level pharmacies that some say have invaded the neighborhood.
Lewis and Haas opened their new pharmacy in the last days of January and created curiosity as passersby noticed their bright "Grand Opening" signs and flags.
"The biggest question [from residents] is why did you decide to open next to Duane Reade?" said Lewis, referencing the ubiquitous chain drugstore at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 79th Street.
For Lewis, the answer is at the core of his business: warmth and individualized customer service.
"We're really tailoring towards the neighborhood — what the neighborhood wants, we'll get," he said, noting that he'd already taken special requests for medications he plans to stock.
Lewis is chatty and wants to be someone customers will get to know and rely on.
"If someone doesn't want to talk, that's OK. But it they want to talk, that's OK, too," he said. Lewis also hopes to learn from his customers, opening up conversations about home remedies and treatments.
And just as Lewis wants to be welcoming to his neighbors, he said he already feels welcome by the neighborhood. Businesses surrounding his new pharmacy have stopped in to say hello, he explained.
"[The visitors] make you feel like home," Lewis said. "The day flies by here in a good way."
He doesn't want to pull customers away from other pharmacies and will happily send a would-be patron to a neighboring store if he doesn't have something in stock and they need it right away.
However, he claimed Duane Reade is so big and busy that it can create a rushed atmosphere for customers.
"[Duane Reade] is very busy," he said, "and you can only do so much."
To offer personalized service, Lewis said the pharmacy will offer clinics on topics ranging from diabetes to nutrition to cholesterol testing.
And, he said, he'll keep his prices competitive. If a customer comes in claiming to buy an item for less elsewhere, he'll match that price.
"I try to work with everybody," Lewis said.