Dan Hust | Democrat
Taking a very short break from a busy Tuesday, the staff of Gusar’s Pharmacy posed for one last photo before they closed the drugstore for good the following day. From the left are Evelyn VanDermark, Linda Vassmer, Matt Blackford, Karol Granados, Shelby Haber, Andy Richardson, Eileen and Emil Motl, Nick Price and Joe McKeegan.
After a century-plus, Gusar’s says goodbye
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO No one alive today can recall the formative years of Gusar’s Pharmacy.
Then again, no one can remember a time when the Monticello drugstore wasn’t a downtown fixture.
Until Wednesday, when the door at 458 Broadway was locked and owners Emil and Eileen Motl closed up shop for the last time ending a 110-year legacy in the county seat.
“On Thursday, it’s Rite-Aid’s,” Emil affirmed the prior Tuesday, a day full of hugs, tears and wishes of goodwill.
“They’re buying our inventory and prescriptions,” explained Eileen.
Her breath caught, her words struggling to be heard amidst deep emotion.
“It’s very bittersweet,” she acknowledged. “It’s hard but it’s time.”
Created in 1902 by Phil Gusar and operated by him and his sons for the next 90 years, Gusar’s became a celebrated part of Monticello and Sullivan County life, known not just for the medicine it dispensed but for the accompanying soda fountain and most of all, for the personalized service.
That tradition of individualized customer attention carried on when the Motls bought the business in 1992, and then the building in 1998.
(“I own the building and Eileen owns the corporation,” said Emil, then jokingly added, “so she can fire me and I can evict her!”)
By then, Emil was already a well-known, respected pharmacist, having honed his craft in Monticello after graduating from Fordham in 1962.
“I was born and grew up here,” he related. “I worked in a lot of stores in this town.”
Stores like Crain’s Pharmacy, Rialto Pharmacy and Spector’s, working for men like Ralph Breakey and Stanley Lowenthal.
He married Eileen in 1966, who herself became a beloved foreign language teacher and coordinator at Monticello Central School.
Emil eventually opened his own pharmacy, Family Drug, which remains on Broadway to this day.
After 15 years there, he worked in Middletown, then returned to Monticello to operate Gusar’s.
This past January, Rite-Aid came calling, offering to purchase the business and transfer its inventory and prescription list to the existing Rite-Aid store down the street.
The Motls thought about it, then took the offer.
“The economy hasn’t been the greatest for the last three or four years,” Emil explained, also blaming the reduced parking as a result of Broadway’s recent reconstruction.
People’s altered buying habits and insurance companies’ altered payment habits also contributed.
“And we’ve just been getting older,” he added.
Emil, 72, and Eileen, 69, are particularly eager to spend more time with their daughter, Karen, son-in-law, Kevin, and granddaughters Anna and Abby, all of whom live in Virginia.
But they know what they’re giving up and what their employees are losing, too.
“We have nine employees,” Emil admitted, “and not all are going to have jobs [after closure].”
Those employees took care of literally thousands of customers from miles around. The pharmacy dispensed around 200-250 prescriptions a day, said Emil.
“It’s very, very hard work, but we enjoyed it,” Eileen related.
The customers made that hard work worth it, she added. Indeed, Gusar’s was known for its service, even filling prescriptions late at night and on weekends.
“We leave a message right on the machine that says, ‘If you need Emil, call him at home,’” Emil pointed out.
“It’s kind of like having an extended family,” added Eileen, tearing up again at the thought. “You’re a part of their lives.”
“They’re all wonderful people, and I’ll miss them very much,” affirmed Bill Franklin, a Monticello businessman and Glen Spey resident who was shocked to learn Tuesday that his favorite pharmacy would be closing in 24 hours. “They have so many good and loyal friends.”
Cherelle Neails of Monticello agreed it was the generous hospitality of Gusar’s staff that kept her returning in a village featuring half a dozen other pharmacies.
“It’s sad,” she acknowledged. “It’s a Mom-and-Pop business. They’ve been around here for years.”
Former Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue has been a customer of Emil’s for all his life, following the pharmacist from store to store since Emil’s days at Spector’s.
Hogue recalled a frightening moment in the ’60s when his then-young son climbed up on the kitchen cabinet and downed an entire bottle of aspirin.
He called Emil, who quickly located medicine that would induce vomiting.
“I’ll never forget that he met me at the curb,” Hogue remembered, who then took his son to the hospital for a successful recovery.
“Anytime I’ve needed anything, day or night, Emil was available,” Hogue stated gratefully. “It’s nice to have a hometown pharmacy, and we’re going to miss it. It’s a big loss.”
He considers Gusar’s closing “another nail in the coffin” of a mostly empty Broadway and Emil and Eileen don’t argue that point. They’ve heard it from several upset customers.
“It breaks our heart to see so many empty storefronts,” Eileen agreed.
But, as Emil observed, “Liberty finally has turned around, and maybe Monticello will.”
They plan to be part of that turnaround, if only by offering an affordable rental of Gusar’s nearly 3,000 square feet of space.
“All we need is the money for taxes,” Emil explained.
“We’re not looking to make a big profit,” Eileen added.
(Those interested in renting the building are welcome to call Emil at 845-794-8788.)
The Motls are also hanging on to two other Broadway properties they own, including Family Drug, and they’ll remain Sackett Lake residents.
Emil’s mother still lives in town, too, though he acknowledged he and Eileen’s affinity for the South.
“She wants to be a snowbird, and that’s probably what we’ll end up doing,” Emil said.
After the obligatory trip that all grandparents and Super Bowl winners must make.
“We already found out we’re taking our granddaughters to Disney World,” Emil remarked with a grin.
But however far they travel, they’ll never forget the many friends and customers they’ve come to know over the past five decades.
“We thank them,” Eileen affirmed. “We’ve had a good run. It has been a truly great ride.”