CAMDEN, NJ— As new buildings and new developments spring up in downtown Camden, one small business in Parkside is undergoing a renovation that will take it back decades.
By this summer, the facade of Bell Pharmacy will look like it once did back in the 1950s.
The nearly 90-year-old pharmacy at the corner of Haddon and Kaighns avenues is currently undergoing renovations to restore its plate glass windows, refurbish the porcelain Bell Rexall Drugs signs that line the building's wall, install period-style lighting and return the front facade finish to a navy granite tile.
This week, a replica of the old neon Bell Rexall Drugs sign was also installed above the pharmacy’s front door.
“We really wanted to restore this building to something that held onto what’s always been here in Parkside,” said Anthony Minniti, whose owned the pharmacy with his sister, Marian Morton, since 1997. “Bell Pharmacy belongs to Parkside, that’s why we felt the need to restore it.”
Bell Pharmacy was established in 1932 and is the oldest family-owned pharmacy in Camden. When it first opened, the pharmacy had a soda counter, Minniti said, up until the 1960s when it began to model what a modern-day pharmacy looks like. While this project won’t restore the soda counter, Minniti hopes it does serve as an example of how small businesses in Camden can restore their buildings, and be a part of the ongoing development in the city.
The pharmacy’s renovation is being funded in part by a New Jersey Economic Development Authority [NJEDA] grant that will fund half of the building’s renovations up to $20,000, Minniti said.
“It’s great to see these gleaming new developments that are popping up throughout town, but what we wanted to do was something a little different,” Minniti said. “We really wanted to show what existing small business owners could do … we really wanted this to be the lead example of how existing businesses could really contribute to the renaissance that’s happening in Camden.”
For a business owner like Minniti, turning to the NJEDA’s small business services team was a no brainer. While he’s worked his whole life in Camden’s pharmacies as part of the Doganiero family — his grandfather Ben Doganiero owned Buono’s Pharmacy on 4th Street and his great uncle Frank Doganiero owned Walnut Pharmacy — Minniti also served as both committeeman and mayor of Cinnaminson, where he was heavily involved in the town’s redevelopment.
“When more people learn about these programs, I’m hopeful you’ll see more buildings like Bell’s be restored,” Minniti said. “As we enter this really exciting time for Camden, I think there has really got to be a careful eye on what we’re removing and maybe a better effort to try to keep some of that character as we’re building all these wonderful new structures around them.”
The interior of the building will see less work, “a hybrid” of what it once was and what is needed in today’s pharmacy business, Minniti said. There are plans, however, to feature a museum-type display of old and historical pharmaceutical equipment Minniti and his sister have collected over the years. The business partners also own AmSTAR Medical Transportation, a non-emergent ambulance/medical transport company, which will be moving into unused space in the pharmacy as well.
And while the pharmaceutical company Rexall saw its demise when it was sold in the 1970s, Minniti said he wanted to keep the branding because of its nostalgia and uniqueness.
“When everybody is the same big chain, I think there is something special about holding on to this old branding,” Minniti said.