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Call it divine intervention.
Call it luck.
Call it the brash decision of a disenchanted young pharmacist.
However one might term Abdul Qaiyum’s decision to purchase Merz Apothecary in 1972, the results are undeniably impressive.
Over the last 45 years, Qaiyum has transformed the tiny, one-man North Side storefront specializing in alternative medicine into one of the nation’s largest homeopathic pharmacies and a shining star in Chicago’s independent retail scene with two thriving storefronts dispensing natural health, personal care and beauty products, a swelling e-commerce business and 60 employees.
“I never imagined anything like this,” Qaiyum confesses.
Back in 1972, in fact, the India-born, Pakistan-raised Qaiyum purchased Merz Apothecary, an operation founded in 1875 and run by three generations of the Merz clan before Qaiyum’s arrival, with little more than basic familiarity of herbal remedies and an earnest desire to exit the script-filling business.
Pairing his knowledge of Western medicine with alternative treatments not readily available elsewhere, Qaiyum capitalized on swelling consumer interest in natural remedies and guided the retail operation’s ascent from one century into another. He expanded into a larger Lincoln Square location and opened a second store in the Loop before becoming a major e-commerce player with www.smallflower.com.
“People just want to feel better and don’t care how they get there,” says Qaiyum, who continues employing traditionally trained pharmacists at Merz Apothecary for the knowledge and credibility they supply the business.
In September, Amazon tabbed Merz Apothecary as the first cosmetics and health store on its ballyhooed Prime Now same-day delivery platform. It’s more fuel to the fire, Qaiyum says, and also a nod to the business’s spirited evolution.
“Even as the business has grown dramatically, I still feel very fortunate that so many people trust us to be a resource in their healing journeys,” Qaiyum says.