Fill your medicine cabinet with bitters, herbs and tonics from this Chicago institution.
“There’s a magic in a five-generation business,” Anthony Qaiyum begins, reminiscing about the history of his family’s famed Merz Apothecary. “I don’t know if it’s stored-up good karma or all these people with a shared history that makes this place feel more special, but it keeps improving.”
It’s been a big month for the 135-year-old business. In the past few weeks, the mayor officially declared a Merz Apothecary Day and, shortly after moving out of its second location in Macy’s on State Street, the shop settled into its current historic digs within the Palmer House Hilton. In fact, it’s been a big past few decades. Thirty-eight years ago, Anthony’s father, Abdul, then a frustrated pharmacist searching for a more fulfilling path, purchased the German apothecary from the third generation of Merzs in Lakeview. In 1982, he relocated the shop to Lincoln Square, enjoying double the real estate but with barely enough merchandise to fill the shelves. Starting with Caswell-Massey body goods, he expanded his stock, adding bath and body and homeopathic products to the existing German-centric selection of household remedies and herbal teas. “I describe it as a place you come to feel good physically, feel good spiritually and feel good mentally,” Abdul says. By the late 1990s, the younger Qaiyum came on board to “computerize” the business, transitioning the inventory process from pen and paper to an organized computer system and opening up an e-commerce site (smallflower.com)…essentially, putting the shop on the worldwide map.
Now a second-wave, second-generation family business, Merz Apothecary carries everything from Diptyque’s Tuberose-scented candles and L’artisan Perfumeur colognes to natural bee pollen and baby products; about 40 percent of the merch comes from Europe, 30 percent from the U.S. and the rest from other parts of the world. Anthony’s most recent count of products available online alone exceeded 13,000.
“If you work hard and your intentions are good, good things happen,” Abdul says.
Visit Merz Apothecary at 17 E Monroe St (312-781-6900) and 4716 N Lincoln Ave (773-989-0900).