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.
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/

The Heart of the Village – Pittwater Pharmacy

If you ever find yourself in Mona Vale Village on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, you will find there is one building in particular that stands out as a noticeable hub of activity. This building is Pittwater Pharmacy, owned by the same hard-working Italian family – the Papandreas – for almost 50 years.
In the first few weeks of this subject, I was encouraged to reflect upon where I belong and the communities that I consider myself a part of. As I reflected in my diary entry, I came to the realisation that I do not actually feel very connected anywhere, an epiphany I found quite distressing. I pondered this personal dilemma deeply, asking myself the question: “Where do I actually belong?”. It eventually came to me that while I may not be able to refer to Sydney as my ‘home’ with conviction, I nevertheless feel a sense of belonging whenever I am in Mona Vale. I grew up in Church Point, about a 15-minute drive north of Mona Vale, and the latter served as our local centre of sorts – when I was a child, I would find myself in Mona Vale regularly, whether it was spending a day at the beach, doing the grocery shopping or catching up with family friends.
When my parents moved back to New Zealand, they made the decision to purchase a unit in Mona Vale to serve as a base. Whenever my parents are in Sydney, I often spend time with them there, and have come to appreciate Mona Vale as a trendy, vibrant, friendly and laid-back community. Most importantly, it is a place I feel a connection to.
Pittwater Pharmacy features heavily in this connection, going back all the way to my birth, when Ralph Papandrea, the pharmacy’s founder and patriarch, used to give my mother advice on the best ointments and treatments for a newborn baby. ‘The Boys’, as we fondly call them, are a group of five Italian men, aged from 22 to 73, who work in this pharmacy and are almost like family to me. Everyone in Mona Vale knows and loves the Pittwater Pharmacy – not only do they have time for everyone and deliver unparalleled personable service, but their charitable contributions and pro bono community work are renowned throughout the village.
For example, Ralph Papandrea continues to work every Wednesday in order to provide older members of Mona Vale’s Italian community with free medical advice in their native tongue. In my family, we refer to this as ‘Wacky Wednesdays’ – you know to steer clear of the pharmacy on these days because the line of customers goes out the door! The family also provides assistance and funding for local charity events and organisations, and regularly makes generous donations to the local Catholic Church.
I have often wondered how the Papandreas came to run their small, bustling pharmacy in the heart of Mona Vale. Although the pharmacy has a website, there is virtually no information about its history. Therefore, I plan to start off by interviewing members of the Papandrea family and generating transcripts in order to document their migration to Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the work they have done for the community since the 1970s. I will then conduct research into the role the business has played in Mona Vale’s local history by investigating resources from the Northern Beaches Council’s archives.
Finally, I would like to either design and publish an informative brochure or create an addition to the pharmacy’s website that will amalgamate these elements. If I decide to produce a brochure, this can be made available at the pharmacy so that its many customers will have the opportunity to read about its history and form a better understanding of the role the family has played in shaping the community.
My ultimate wish is to give back to a family that has given myself and the local community so much by making their numerous and diverse contributions visible to the public they selflessly care for.