Sometimes, the part-time jobs of our youth ultimately end up dictating our life’s path.
After Brooklyn College’s astronomy program abruptly shut down in the 1970s, Richard Mastrota fondly remembered his teenage years working at and enrolled in pharmacy school. It was that choice that led him to own Ludwig’s, the Prospect Heights landmark, today.
In 1936, Max Ludwig opened his namesake drug store on Washington Avenue, near the corner of Eastern Parkway. In the 1960s, his son Jack took over the business. When Mastrota’s older brother got a job at the store, Mastrota offered up his services, too. He remembers the elder Ludwig as having “a tough side,” and Jack as “easygoing, but firm.”
Mastrota made deliveries, cleaned and made runs to other stores if their merchandise supply was low. He remembers spending his time with Thomas Walsh, who would come to own , and , who would later take over .
When Mastrota graduated from pharmacy school in 1981, he began working at Ludwig’s that same week.
“I passed my exam on a Wednesday, and (Jack) said, ‘Great, can you work on Sunday?’” Mastrota said.
Today, Ludwig’s is much more modernized than its inception, though some classic touches remain – the antique rolling ladder affixed to the original shelves is one example.
Mastrota remembers one famous customer from the old days, too: Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham, who played Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus," and briefly lived around the corner from the pharmacy.
But Mastrota stresses that it is the close-knit “neighborhood drug store” feel that has kept Ludwig’s in business since the 30s, even amid competition from chain stores.
“If (customers) call up, just by the sound of their voice, I know their prescription,” he said. “And if they don’t have the money right away, I say bring it next time. It’s more important for them to have their medicine.”
He remembers one particular time when the pharmacy’s personal touch may have saved a local man’s life: “It was a Saturday, and we were closing up early. A guy comes in with an upset stomach, so I give him some Mylanta, and tell him that if he doesn’t feel better in 20 minutes, to go to the hospital. Sure enough, he went to the hospital and found out he had an appendix ready to go.”
Other times, the emergencies weren’t as life threatening, but still nerve-wracking: “A lady comes in on a Saturday morning to buy some hair dye, says she is getting married that day. She comes back in later with dye all over her hands – she didn’t use the gloves – we had to figure out how to get that ink out before her wedding.”
Mastrota said the secret to Ludwig’s continued success, even amid newer drug stores and big-box chains, is that he truly enjoys what he does everyday.
“Everyone that comes in, you have to treat them like family,” he said.
Ludwig's Drug Store is located at 805 Washington Avenue; (718) 636-5655.