Schenectady County

City officials to unveil marker at site of Schenectady pharmacy

More than 120 years after it opened and 37 years after it closed, Kerste’s Drug Store is being honor

More than 120 years after it opened and 37 years after it closed, Kerste’s Drug Store is being honored with a historical marker, ceremony and proclamation.

For nearly 100 years, 402 Union St. was known around town as Kerste’s pharmacy, the place where you stopped to fix your burns, dizziness, sleeplessness, stomachaches and headaches. These days, Schenectadians know it better as the former Kabul Night, the distinctive-looking restaurant with a Dutch gambrel roof that used to serve delicious Afghan cuisine.

At 11 a.m. today, Schenectady officials will unveil a historical marker in front of the building that pays tribute to the pharmacy’s founder, Henry A. Kerste, and his successor, Ercole Conti. Both men ran the mom-and-pop drugstore for decades.

“It started out as an idea,” said Andrew Conti, grandson of Ercole Conti. “I had this idea that celebrating the building also meant celebrating the history of Schenectady, which is why I think people became excited about it.”

In July, The Daily Gazette wrote about Conti’s efforts to get the building designated a historic landmark in Schenectady. His grandfather learned the trade from the store’s namesake. Kerste was known as a pioneer druggist and renowned community figure. He graduated from Albany College of Pharmacy in 1886 and built the store in 1892.

The place was everything you might picture in an old-fashioned pharmacy and more. There were colorful show globes in the storefront and postcards for sale inside. Kerste bought a giant, hand-carved oak soda fountain with a marble top and gilded mirrors. He eventually regretted it, finding himself too busy with his job of compounding and dispensing drugs to be making ice cream sodas for the public.

Ercole Conti took over from Kerste in 1940, and moved his family in upstairs. He and his wife, Mary, ran the place until their retirement in 1976.

Andrew Conti, inspired by his grandparents’ long service to the Schenectady community and the history and revitalization of the city, struck out to get some recognition for the building. And he’s apparently done a decent job, too.

Mayor Gary McCarthy has issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 7, 2013, as Kerste’s Drug Store Day in Schenectady. In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have both issued statements recognizing the Schenectady landmark and the pharmacists who made it a community gathering place.

Cuomo is also sending a representative — Jessica Gabriel, regional director of Empire State Development — to the unveiling today to read a message from the governor.

“The legacy of many family-owned businesses reflects the successful and honorable reputation they earned within the communities they served,” reads part of the letter Cuomo will have Gabriel read. “Local residents are pleased to join in celebrating this notable milestone in the history of Kerste’s Drug Store — a longstanding business and recognized landmark in the Schenectady community. For well over a century, Kerste’s Drug Store was a staple of the Schenectady community housed in a magnificent structure that still stands tall and proud. Today, you pay tribute to this wonderful building and a trusted name that will forever be remembered with fondness and appreciation by local residents. Congratulations on the historic designation of this important landmark in the Capital Region’s beloved Electric City.”

Conti is also planning something that he hopes will pique the curiosity of passersby. In the windows of the 402 Union St. storefront, he will display vintage pharmaceutical tools and materials on loan from Albany College of Pharmacy. Passersby will get a glimpse of dried herbs, bronze and wooden mortar and pestles, pill tiles, ointment jars, brass sieves, wooden and metal spatulas, homogenizers, antique Parke-Davis tins and colorful liquids. And with the historic marker in place, they won’t have to wander very far to figure out what it all means.

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