Merz Apothecary – Historic and Unique

Passing Merz Apothecary

For several years, I drove past Merz Apothecary on my way to work before I ever stepped inside.  I always noticed its large blue sign stating it was established in 1875.  Someone told me it was a great place to get personal items, but it wasn’t until I wanted to purchase body lotion for my 95-year old Aunt, that I actually went in.  I was amazed at the range of health related products as far as the eye could see, situated in an organized, attractive manner within a relatively small space.  I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and knowledgeable assistance I received.  The recommendation was perfect and my Aunt loved the lotion.

Anthony and hidden customer

Merz was a pharmacist of Swiss origin who established his “apothecary”in 1875 on Chicago’s North side.  It was moved to Lincoln Square in 1982.  It was custom-built to replicate a turn-of-the-century European Apothecary, complete with a hand-carved wooden exterior, leaded glass windows, parquet floors, tin ceilings, and solid oak cabinets and the antique pharmacy jars and herb containers which were still in use came too.

Homeopathic advice

After 85 years during which the business was owned by three generations of the Merz family, Ralph Merz was ready to retire in 1972 without a successor. The store was about to close permanently.  But, one month before its scheduled closing, a 26-year-old pharmacist, Abdul Qaiyum, walked into Merz Apothecary having heard about it from his German in-laws. He immediately fell in love with the store.  He was s a recent pharmacy school graduate, but Qaiyum was unhappy with his job at a large drugstore chain and was about to leave the field.  Fortunately, he was attracted by Merz Apothecary, which reminded him of his family's business and the healing traditions in his homeland of Pakistan. He purchased it a few days later.

Pleasant assistants keeping informed

These days, Merz Apothecary is a Chicago landmark (tour buses from around the Midwest make regular stops at the Apothecary) and a mecca for people who want unique natural products for their bodies. The store sends packages to customers around the world and has been featured often in local, national, and international media.

Jars with herbs

Anthony Qaiyum, Abdul's son, believes Merz is special in some of the following ways.  Although a fully qualified pharmacist is always on site (including one of the owners), very few prescriptions are filled during a given week.  Instead, pharmacists are usually called on to offer authoritative advice on natural and homeopathic remedies.  From it inception, patrons were from Europe often speaking German. More recently, Eastern European speaking many languages, continue to value German health products and come into the store to purchase them or order online.  

Looking in

Merz offers a wide variety of largely natural products from around the world that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.  Examples of very unusual fragrances carried at Merz are: Caswell & Massey #6 that date to George Washington, Santa Maria Novella from the oldest fragrance producers in the world going back to the 1200’s in Florence, Italy and the Medici’s.  On another note, there is Indigo Wild goat’s milk soap from Kansas City.  Merz thinks of itself as covering the body’s needs from head to toe inside and out and they believe it is all related.  In all, there are 12,000 products to choose from and you will probably want one of each, as did my friend.

Selecting the desired fragrance

Qaiyum and his son Anthony established,  Merz’s website, in 1998. It was an opportunity to offer an expanded vision of health and personal care on the Internet.  Using a phone, the website and/or email nearly anyone anywhere can have access to both advice and products from Merz.  The website includes a complete history, a blog and product ordering capability.

Merz Apothecary
Lincoln Square: 4716 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago 60625 Mon-Sat 9am to 6pm
Downtown Chicago: Macy’s 111 N. State St., Chicago 60602 open seven days

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