A historic independent pharmacy, Village Apothecarycontinues to fight for its customers 40 years after opening its doors during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Greenwich Village.
The award-winning pharmacy located on the corner of Bleecker and West 10th Streets, in the heart of New York’s historic gay district, has been a true good neighbor since its founding in 1983 by the late Micheal Konnon, a non-gay Greek-American pharmacist.
Greenwich Village was the site of the Stonewall Riots, a six-night queer uprising against the New York Police Department in 1969 that launched the modern LGBTQ movement and Pride celebrations.
“Our founder was an activist and veteran of Stonewall, and was involved in the community from the beginning,” said the pharmacy’s director of pharmaceutical services, John Kaliabakos,
“(Konnon) realized the neighborhood needed a smaller community pharmacy to serve the neighborhood,” he continued. “He decided to open a pharmacy to serve the needs of his friends he knew in the neighborhood and others in the Greenwich Village area.”
From day one, the New York native’s goal was to serve his community in Manhattan’s West Village, where he has called home since graduation. Fordham University College of Pharmacy. It achieved this by specializing in HIV care, working with nearby St. Vincent Hospital and other HIV/AIDS experts to keep the latest and experimental drugs and treatments stocked on its shelves at a affordable price. At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Konnon worked with federal and state programs. He worked closely with the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. The Village Apothecary was one of the first pharmacies to enroll patients in the New York State AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
Konnon has also worked closely with community organizations such as Gay Men’s Health Clinic, The love of God that we deliver, AIDS Coalition, Bailey-Holt House AIDS Housing, Community Entertainment Fund (formerly the Actors Fund of America), Legacy of Pride, the AIDS Medical Foundation and many other organizations. Konnon set up flexible payment plans at the pharmacy and even paid for customers’ medications out of his own pocket, according to West Village News.
He also hired local gay men to provide a supportive and welcoming environment at a time when gay men faced high levels of discrimination and stigma. At the same time, he fought for government action and funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS until his retirement in 1995. Konnon died of natural causes at his home at the age of 81 years in 2018.
His legacy is now carried on by pharmacy owners Vijay and Mital Desai, as well as Kaliabakos. The Desais bought the pharmacy from 2012 with the intention of maintaining its history and values, according to Preservation of the village. The pharmacy underwent a makeover in 2018.
Konnon hired Kaliabakos, 51, a fellow Greek New Yorker straight out of the city’s St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 1994. That was a year before the first cocktail HIV Drugs, a combination of anti-HIV drugs, was approved by the FDA in 1995, four years after the United States government launched the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. The federal program was put in place to combat the crisis that killed 100,777 people – mostly gay men – between 1981 until 1990 by financing care, treatment and prevention through community organizations. The program and cocktails were a game-changer for people living with HIV, bringing many of them back to life from the brink of death.
“We were kind of spot on about what was happening.” Kaliabakos said. “We were faced with all the new and exciting things that were happening at the time – approved and unapproved things.”
Today, Kaliabakos, an ally, still fights for the pharmacy’s more than 500 HIV patients, monitoring their prescription profiles and consulting with HIV specialists in New York, according to Saint John University.
The battle is not over; this has only changed in the four decades since the HIV/AIDS crisis began and the pharmacy opened. Today, Kaliabakos said he was fighting insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and big box pharmacies.
“It’s been a constant battle and these kinds of battles are still going on these days,” he said, pointing the finger at insurance companies trying to put pressure on insurance companies. patients to mail order prescriptions. Yet the pharmacy is still open, despite the closure of other independent pharmacies, helping its patients overcome the mountain of paperwork and all the complicated elements of their healthcare.
People who “only go to the pharmacy for an antibiotic once a year, they don’t really understand why it’s so important to have a pharmacy near you,” » said Kaliabakos. But, he continues, “for patients who take these medications that keep them alive,” there are many complications, details, and specialists involved, especially for those aging with HIV, which sometimes amounts to “complicated diets.”
It all comes down to communication, said Kaliabakos, who said the pharmacy and its team of 10 employees “monitor every The HIV Patient’s Medication Regimen,” from timely medication refills, to mixing medications, to getting all the medications they need.
“Tthere are a lot of things that can happen and a lot of things that can go wrong,” he continued. “Unfortunately, with the current state of the system, a lot of people are falling through the cracks.”
“Ssometimes you just need to discuss the red tape and complications to get there,” he added.
Craig Sherman, 71, an HIV-positive gay man who has been going to the pharmacy for about 40 years, said between his doctor, Dr. Ricky Hsu, and Kaliabakos, “I feel like I’m in good hands.”
Hsu is a gay HIV specialist and medical director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation health center.
More recently, Kaliabakos has advocated for the regulation and licensing of pharmacy benefit managers. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill to regulate and license pharmacy benefit managers in 2020. Last month, the Empire State Department of Financial Services finalized licensing rules for pharmaceutical benefit managers and withdrew its proposed market conduct rules, which would have significantly increased the state’s purchasing power. oversight of pharmacy benefit managers, he announced in August, reported JDSupra. In In 2018, the pharmacy was one of the first to sign up for a pilot program, PEP 4 HIV prevention, to obtain pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to people at risk of potential HIV infection, Gay City News reported. PrEP blocks HIV if taken within 72 hours for seven days.
The pharmacy has carried the same advocacy for HIV-positive customers to patients with other life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, and viruses, such as COVID-19 and Mpox, Kaliabakos noted.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, the pharmacy donated medications and supplies to the YFT Clinic after Dr. Yelena Yeretsky, founder and medical director of the West Village organization, approached it about helping Ukrainian hospitals .
“(Kaliabakos) has is doing a tremendous job,” Sherman said. “I still have a small, independent pharmacy that is very knowledgeable about my medical needs and medications, instead of going to a big box store and seeing the pharmacist behind the counter. It’s just a really nice little neighborhood pharmacy.
Gene Fedorko, long-time gay activist (2023 Gay City News Impact Award Recipient) – who originally worked for HIV specialist Dr. Paul Bellman until he retired and now works for Dr. Jose Lares-Guia in New York – called Kaliabakos and his team “very skillful and intelligent.”
“They’ve done a lot of things for patients that other pharmacies wouldn’t do,” he said, adding that “there’s a big difference” between the personalization of Village Apothecary and the impersonal service provided by big-box drugstore chains like Duane Reade.
Village Apothecary has been recognized for its work by the New York City Mayor’s Office, the New York State Assembly and others. This year, Schneps Media, the parent company of Gay City News, honored the pharmacy with the award Healthcare Heroes Award. Last year, Gay City News honored Kaliabakos with a Impact Prize.
Additionally, the pharmacy supports local businesses offering premium skin care and other personal care products in its store.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, fighting the good fight and making it happen as long as we can and as long as everyone trusts us with their pharmaceutical care,” » said Kaliabakos.
He added: “We are lucky to do what we do. WWe have a clientele and a community that are very loyal to us and we are loyal to them. This ends up working well.