Bob Litvak has seen decades of change in Downtown Santa Monica, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that his store, Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy, has been open for business for 70 years. Since 1944, the store has served the Santa Monica community, and it all started with Bob’s parents, Norman and Mary Litvak, the original owners.
When Norman and Mary first opened their business (at 4th Street and Broadway), it was called the Santa Monica Drug Company. Bob’s first official role at the store was selling newspapers out front and learning to ring the register. It was your typical store to fill prescriptions and pick up beverages, alcohol, tobacco and snacks, but it had something else that made it distinct: homeopathic remedies. According to Bob, his father studied homeopathy in pharmacy school, and it was important to him to offer natural products in the store.
Norman Litvak was truly a visionary man, because the homeopathic practice has taken off in recent years. According to Homeopathic.com, medicine sales in this industry have grown 10%-20% per year over the last 10 years. The site also states that many U.S. presidents, world leaders and corporate leaders have used homeopathy products.
Over time, Norman’s focus on homeopathy became even more prevalent. Bob recalled when his father made the decision to re-evaluate his inventory and only focus on products that heal the body, not harm it.
“In 1951, he said, ‘I’m getting rid of the liquor license’….In the early- to mid-60s, he stopped selling all tobacco products and all narcotic drugs.”
Over time, the store built a reputation on quality products and outstanding customer service in the homeopathic industry. The name was changed to Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy. In the mid ‘80s, Bob’s brother took over management of the store. In 1992, Bob joined him, and today they own and operate it together. Both Bob and Don’s children have also worked in the store, and some still do. It’s become more than a family business though.
The store has touched generations of customers. Bob provided a tour and was proud to talk about the numerous customer photos hanging on the walls. He pointed out signed photos of celebrities, athletes, and Hollywood legends. There was Mel Gibson, Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Sheen, just to name a few. He doted with pride on the pictures of his children and grandchildren, and he beamed when he showed the photo boards of his parents and the early days at the store.
When Bob and Don took over, they looked back at what their parents had built and tried to figure out what the “secret” was to their success. They concluded that their parents had exemplified these values in every aspect of their lives: Knowledge, Care, Integrity and Service. They decided they would continue to run the business with these values as a focal point, and Bob says that’s what’s kept the business going for 70 years.
“They represent the example that my parents set,” said Litvak. “What people do is more important than what they say.”
The four values are the core of Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy. As an example of demonstrating knowledge, Bob hosts pharmacy school students throughout the year, for six weeks at a time, to learn the processes of the business and to get an inside look at how his pharmacists work with natural products. One of the current students is Isabell Eea.
“This is a great opportunity to learn as much as I can about the alternative products that are out there like natural products, homeopathy, and Chinese herbs,” said Eea, a student at the USC School of Pharmacy.
The value of care is shown by the remarkable customer service that is consistently provided. In fact, Bob said that most new customers come through referrals and friends who have had a great experience at the pharmacy. Ana Bird has been a customer for four years, and she first learned about the store from her grandmother, who was also a customer.
“They offer very good customer service, and everything they recommend is always helpful,” said Bird, as her two little children were saying hello to their favorite store employee.
Integrity and service are evident in the talented group of employees, most of whom have been with the store for multiple years, or even decades. Bob said that part of the success with his staff is because he puts “…integrity before income and people before profits.”
For Flavia Baptista, the business is not just her employer, but it’s the reason she became a homeopath nine years ago, and she’s been with them ever since.
“I came to the store looking for info about homeopathic vaccinations for my baby,” said Baptista. “I came and talked to one of the homeopaths, who suggested I should go to school for homeopathy, and that’s when it all started.”
After 70 years in business, the store and its employees are not slowing down. You’ll still find Bob, 74-years-young, in the store on most days. He said they have no plans to leave the current location at 629 Broadway. The store is seeing success in connecting with customers in new ways. Online ordering is available. You can sign up for the e-newsletter at the web site, www.smhomeopathic.com. There are even in-store events where you can learn more about homeopathy, like the one listed below.
“Today, our most unique offering is the free consultation,” Bob said. “There is literally nothing we can’t help people with.”