Exploring Saratoga’s More Than 150-Year-Old Apothecary, Menges & Curtis

When most visitors or locals walk down Broadway in Saratoga Springs, they’re immediately drawn to the smells wafting out of the many restaurants and specialty shops (I see you, Kilwins!) or the clothing boutiques, luring in shoppers with colorful window displays. And then there’s Menges & Curtis, with its little green storefront and distinctive black-on-white sign, which currently sits on the corner of Broadway and Lake Avenue. Did you know that it’s been here for more than 150 years? What, pray tell, does it do?

It’s OK if you came up blank. I, for one, came across Menges & Curtis Apothecary by accident. While waiting at the bus stop, I noticed a super-cute dog snoozing on the floor of the shop and couldn’t help but go in to pet him or her. That’s when I met Jennifer Lamb, who, along with her husband, Scott, is the fifth proprietor of the storefront pharmacy that’s been in Downtown Saratoga for more than 150 years. The original pharmacy, opened in 1860 near what’s now Saratoga Tea & Honey, was owned and operated by Fred Menges. In the mid 1860s, the shop moved to its current location in the Ainsworth Building, and was passed down through generations of Mengeses and Curtises. In recent years, it passed through the hands of three other families before the Lambs took it over two years ago.

Jennifer, a pharmacist, was approached about buying the storefront after its transformation into a compounding pharmacy, one at which particular ingredients are combined or processed to meet specific needs of a patient that cannot be met by commercially available drugs. “I didn’t just buy a pharmacy,” Jennifer tells saratoga living. “I wanted to buy the pharmacy because I really love compounding. That’s my specialty and how I got trained. It’s cool.”

While it’s much easier to find your local CVS or Rite Aid, compounding pharmacies offer another alternative to consumers, though, compounded drugs aren’t approved by the US Food & Drug Administration, so they come with some inherent risks. But compounding pharmacies do still have an important place in society. As Jennifer explains, a compounding pharmacy might offer a parent of a child, who’s unable to swallow a  medication in pill form, an easier-to-swallow version of the medication. In other words, a compounding pharmacist has been trained to crush tablets and make them into liquids. “We take that a step further,” she says. “Through additional training and understanding of chemistry, we can customize just about any medication to specifically deal with unusual ailments,” she says. “We make a mathematical formula, then it goes into the lab and is prepared.”

But compounding is only one part of Menges & Curtis’ business. Despite the shop’s new-age apothecary feel, it’s also an actual, traditional pharmacy, too, says Jennifer. But unlike your local CVS, Jennifer is open to prescribing natural remedies and supplements, as long as they have legitimate scientific evidence to back up their effectiveness. She also offers patient consultations that look beyond the common causes of symptoms, free of charge. (She calls it “being a good neighbor.”) “Holistic [medicine] looks at the whole body at large,” she says. “So let’s say that you’re having respiratory infections all the time, but your doctor is saying there’s no real reason [for them]—you have no allergies, there’s nothing going on. We would start to look at other reasons that might be contributing factors, look beyond what necessarily is the obvious place.”

But that doesn’t mean clients jettison their normally prescribed medications when they come to Menges & Curtis. Jennifer’s approach is to work with patients and their doctors to find a way to tailor their care to their own needs. The goal is to help everyone that comes into her store by working with him or her, melding both traditional medicine and “natural” remedies.

The store itself, which also includes normal old-fashioned pharmacy-type ware, such as soaps made by the oldest soap-maker in America and Himalayan salt products, is steeped in history. After buying Menges & Curtis, Jennifer and Scott set to work restoring it to its original beauty, refurbishing the fixtures and sifting through mountains of documents and photographs from the store’s original owner. (Not to mention getting in touch with the Saratoga Historical Society, too.) When you walk into the shop, it makes you feel like you’re stepping through a portal to the past. The gorgeous countertops and cabinets look as though they were taken directly out of the old photographs displayed above them.

Owning one of Saratoga’s oldest storefronts is certainly a source of pride for the Lambs, but it also comes with an added level of responsibility: to keep the 150-year-old apothecary’s legacy alive. “I want to continue to preserve it,” says Jennifer. “It may change, as it has over the years. We may have to evolve, but I would like to see it remain a true prescription pharmacy. If it has to evolve, we’ll ride that wave.”

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