Pittwater Pharmacy and Compounding Chemist – Not Just a Business but a Community Service

“We do what we do because we care. That’s the whole mission of our profession – to help people…”
– Andrew Snow, co-owner of Pittwater Pharmacy and member of the Papandrea Family
This project is the product of substantial soul-searching and a fortuitous epiphany – after several weeks of melancholy rumination upon my apparent lack of ‘belonging’, initiated by reflection upon the content of this course, I finally realised that I did have connections to a local community. This sense of attachment was discovered whilst enjoying a coffee at a café opposite a building I have known my entire life: Pittwater Pharmacy and Compounding Chemist. The pharmacy is a familiar landmark for the residents of Mona Vale village on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the area where I spent my childhood before my parents moved back to New Zealand. Having been owned and run by the same Italian family, the Papandreas, for over forty years, the pharmacy boasts an impressively large and loyal clientele, with customers visiting from all over Sydney and even from interstate. Although I have known the Papandrea family since I was a baby, it dawned on me that I actually knew very little about their history. I decided I wanted to know more about this iconic small business and, in the process, create some sort of historical product that would convey how important and integral their work is to the community, both in the past and today. The pharmacy is far more than a business – it is a community service, providing uniquely personable and customised care to each and every one of its customers.
The role that the pharmacy plays in the local community is manifold. Not only do the Papandreas provide free medical and general life advice to members of both the Italian and non-Italian communities of the Northern Beaches, offering this advice to the former in their native tongue, but they also make regular donations to cancer foundations, give free talks on fall prevention, support local sporting events, sponsor the local primary school, donate to the local Catholic church, create hampers full of products that are then donated for events at the Mona Vale Surf Life Saving Club, and both compile and deliver medical Webster packs to clients free of charge. Considering the significant presence that the Papandrea family has in the community and the wide-reaching impact of their generosity, I believed it was important that they received recognition for the work they do. I would like to think that many of the pharmacy’s customers would be interested to learn about the family’s history, particularly about their immigration from Italy to Australia and how they came to open a family-run business in which the members’ ages range from 22 to 72 and where a third generation of Papandrea pharmacists is imminent.
The pharmacy’s clientele primarily consists of middle-aged and elderly customers, many of whom have been served by the Papandreas for several decades and whose children and grandchildren now visit the pharmacy. This demographic informed my decisions regarding the format and presentation of my historical project. In order to engage both younger and older members of the community, I decided to make an information booklet which would be available as both a hard-copy from the pharmacy and as an online PDF, accessed through a link on the pharmacy’s functioning website (URL: https://www.pittwaterpharmacy.com.au/). Moreover, as I wished to focus on the family itself, the majority of the booklet consists of interview excerpts. By providing these intimate glimpses into the Papandreas’ personal history, rather than merely recounting a factual history of the area, I hoped that my intended readers’ engagement with the content would be enhanced considering their individual connections to the family.
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Given the highly personal nature of the project, the foundation of my research was the collection of oral histories from four members of the Papandrea family and four members of the general public. This was achieved by using my iPhone to record interviews, followed by a combination of manual and assisted online transcription. Although I mainly utilised individual interviews, I also facilitated several group interview settings which were highly beneficial as interviewees were able to supplement each other’s recollections and thereby provide a more complete retelling of the past. The individuals I interviewed were generous with their time, for which I was very grateful; although it has been a challenging undertaking to present these oral histories in a condensed form, it was a privilege to listen to their diverse insights. I have had to be selective with the excerpts used in the booklet – with almost five hours of audio recordings, I initially felt too overwhelmed to commence the transcription and dissemination processes. However, through persistence and determination, I was able to select critical segments that most accurately reflected the Papandreas’ immense generosity and the contributions they have made to the Northern Beaches community.
While the booklet does contain a substantial amount of information, the text has been intentionally interspersed with images, kindly supplied by the Papandrea family. The choice of font and font size was deliberately selected to maximise the booklet’s readability. Furthermore, the booklet’s layout has been designed to not only convey the pharmacy’s historical origins, but to also emphasise the services it provides today. This pro bono work is what makes the pharmacy unique – the level of personalised care that all customers receive, regardless of whether they are a first-time visitor or have been coming to the pharmacy for decades, is hard to find anywhere else. This is particularly pertinent in the contemporary climate where big-chain pharmacies increasingly dominate the pharmaceutical field and threaten to overwhelm small businesses. However, the Papandreas are highly philosophical about this. They know that they will always have to compete with these larger businesses, especially in terms of ‘budget’ pricing, but that will not stop them from providing the exceptional level of individual care they are known and valued for.
Pittwater Pharmacy Website URL: https://www.pittwaterpharmacy.com.au/
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