Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the Queens Courier and QNS is beginning an open-ended series of stories on small businesses across Queens. The goal is to highlight mom-and-pop shops and their history, as well as their successes despite facing competition from bigger, well-known retailers; and the challenges they face in the current economic environment. If you’re a Queens small business owner and interested in speaking with our editorial staff about your successes and challenges, call 718-224-5863, ext. 204, or email rpozarycki[@]qns.com.
After operating businesses in different locations throughout the city, northeast Queens resident Chris Tsatsaronis decided to bring his work home.
Sterling Pharmacy, located at 38-01 Bell Blvd. in Bayside, has been in operation for about five years, according to the owner and pharmacist. Beginning his career working for some of the chains, like since-defunct Genovese, Tsatsaronis later opened up a small business in Manhattan. Unfortunately, he had to shutter the business due to the city’s major Second Avenue reconstruction project.
“After that, I’ve managed and run a couple of other independent pharmacies before I ventured going into business with my current partner,” the business owner said.
With over 20 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Tsatsaronis opened Sterling Pharmacy in April 2013.
What drew Tsatsaronis most to the Bayside storefront, which is located along the neighborhood’s dense commercial venue, Bell Boulevard, was parking and corner situation. Sitting on the northeast corner of 38th Avenue and Bell Boulevard, the pharmacy is one of a few businesses along the venue that has a free parking lot around the back for customer use.
While Bell Boulevard storefronts generally have a higher turnover rate, Sterling is one business that has survived the test of modern times.
“Overall, we’re very happy with all of our clientele,” the owner said. “I can honestly say I feel all our clients are happy with us and our services thus far.”
A “friendly atmosphere” is what sets Sterling apart from the big chain pharmacies, according to Tsatsaronis. Staff and clients get to know each other on a more personal level.
“Given the fact we’re a small operation, it’s not as difficult as if you worked for one of the bigger chains, where you’re focused on volume as opposed to focuses on service and individual needs,” he said.
Competitive pricing is another draw, Tsatsaronis noted.
“We tend to beat anybody’s price for non-insured patients,” he said. “And believe it or not, a lot of our products over-the-counter are priced less than what you might find at Rite Aid. I like to say there isn’t a price we can’t beat. No one leaves dissatisfied.”
Tsatsaronis hasn’t instituted many changes since Sterling’s opening in 2013. However, about six months ago, the pharmacy rolled out of full-time delivery service after delivering only part-time. The move has been a huge success.
“We see that it’s definitely a necessity, especially for the elderly,” he said.
The biggest day-to-day challenge the business faces is name recognition, Tsatsaronis said.
“Our hardest challenge so far has been — almost at the five year point — we still have numerous people in the immediate community that still don’t realize that we’re open yet,” he said. “By default, they’re still going to the Rite Aids, CVSes and what-not … But once we get them in the door, I would say about 100 percent are repeat customers because the level of service is that different.”
What’s worked best to combat this is word of mouth, Tsatsaronis noted. New customers who come in are often referred by family, neighbors and friends. The business also maintains a presence on social media sites, like Facebook, and in local newspapers. Sterling was also the people’s choice for “Best Pharmacy” in the 2018 Best of the Boro competition.
A different challenge came in November, when Sterling was one of several businesses hit in an early morning string of commercial burglaries. The perpetrators walked away with around $2,000 in cash and some prescription medications before authorities arrived, alerted to the crime by the business’s alarm system: a “necessity.”
“In our case, we were lucky. Damage was negligible in comparison to what damage could have been,” he said. “But if it was the reverse, then it would have been a big number to try and make up.”
As for the future of Sterling, Tsatsaronis hopes for further growth.
“We’d like to keep growing, gain more customers,” he said. “And if business gets to the point where we want it to, we’d like to expand, if possible, in nearby communities.”
In the meantime, Sterling Pharmacy will continue to serve Bayside for the foreseeable future.
“I grew up going to Bell Boulevard as a teenager,” he said. “I love the neighborhood. The neighbors are great, the people are great. I don’t see a reason for us to have to leave.”