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Health and Fitness

Santa Monica's Once
and Future Pharmacy

By: Violet Sparks

On October 8, 1944, pharmacist Norman Litvak and his wife Mary opened a pharmacy in downtown Santa Monica.

The original store boasted a soda fountain, and sold cosmetics, cigarettes, liquor and candy. Not long after, a sales rep from Standard Homeopathic asked Norman if he'd be interested in selling a box of odd-looking bottles filled with tiny pellets.

Norman was familiar with homeopathy from his studies in pharmacy school, so he began by offering one four-foot shelf of homeopathic remedies to the people of Santa Monica.

Today, Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy attracts customers from Australia, South Africa, Europe and Asia. Dozens of celebrities, movie stars, and sports figures (think Lakers) depend on the store for state-of-the-art supplements and remedies.

The store is still run by the Litvak family, and offers free consultations from a remarkable staff with knowledge and education in Homeopathy, Nutrition, Western Herbs, Chinese Herbs, Acupuncture and Chiropractic philosophies.

Steve and Kim Litvak - Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy
Steve and Kim Litvak

Norman and Mary would be proud. Santa Monica Pharmacy has become a model for integrated pharmacies throughout the world.

Steve Litvak, grandson of Norman and Mary, left his successful business ventures in 1988 and went to work in the pharmacy.

Along with his wife Kim, who joined the store in 1989, Steve attended the British Institute of Homeopathy for his 4-year training in homeopathy. His teacher was the physician for the Queen of England.

He continued his training under many great homeopaths, integrative medical doctors, and continuing education. Using his business knowledge, Steve is guiding the business into the 21st century.

We caught up with Steve at his home to learn more about this unique pharmacy by the sea.

What prompted your grandfather to start Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy?

He originally opened a regular pharmacy, but after years of listening to his customers complain about the side effects of medication, he changed the projection of the pharmacy. My grandfather once said he didn't become a pharmacist to sell things that harmed people.

In 1951, the store stopped selling alcohol, and removed cigarettes and narcotic drugs in the 1960s. My grandfather was always looking for safer ways to resolve health problems.

How would you describe the pharmacy?

It is a place where people can visit or email their health concerns. They can get professional advice on modern and alternative medicine.

Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy

Your pharmacy is highly unusual in that you have practitioners on staff. Tell us about the practitioners who work in your store.

Most of practitioners that we employ have retired from their own personal practices or found this way of helping people best for them.

Together, they have a wide range of expertise. We invest about 30% of our income in salaries so that we can employ and keep the finest consultants available. The industry average is 13%.

What are some myths people have about taking nutritional supplements?

Just like with all industries, there are many facets to this one. There are vitamins and then there are nutritional supplements. Vitamins come in many types from high quality to others that are very unhealthy.

There are supplements designed by doctors that help to re-establish our biochemistry, so the body can work on restoring and reversing health problems. Then there are others that can cause health problems.

Just like in all industries, there is misinformation being spread about the vitamin industry. Competition creates some of that misinformation and the quality and costs spread further misinformation.

Vitamins should only be recommended by a licensed healthcare professional, and not randomly researched or taken off the shelf. There are issues surrounding many different ingredients when it comes to certain people.

What do you wish people would know about the role nutritional supplements can play in their health?

The majority of health problems come from too much or too little. Deficiencies play one of the largest rolls to disease, even if you eat organic and what some people call perfect. Food today is not like it was 25 years ago, when disease started becoming more widespread.

The right supplement ingredients can fill in some deficiencies or even reduce too much of something that is affecting their health. There is nothing that can replace perfect food; however, in the US these perfect foods are no longer here.

There are supplements made from perfect foods (not food based) that can help reverse or prevent the disease process. Whatever the body creates it can also reverse.

Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy

Has the traditional medical community begun to accept supplements as a viable route to health?

During the last 25 years, thousands of traditionally trained medical doctors have come to the conclusion that supplements are necessary to help with or reverse disease.

This often happens when they get sick themselves or they have a family member become ill. Then they realize the limitations of traditional modern medicine and feel they must help themselves or that family member that is relying on the family doctor to help.

Today, hospitals and thousands of doctors use alternative medicine in their practices, or they communicate with us by email on various situation. Since most doctors cannot find the time to return to a 4 to 6 year course of schooling, they rely on us or other accurate sources of information.

There are a small handful of websites that are accurate and reliable with the information they offer the public. There are also many websites for healthcare practitioners that are not available to the general public.

2020 was challenging for everyone and it was particularly challenging for you and the pharmacy. Can you tell us a bit about what happened?

In February 2020, we were alerted about a virus coming into New York affecting one hospital and at that time it appeared it was going to be a huge problem for the US.

To protect our staff and customers, we immediately changed the way we were doing business. We chose to barricade the front door and only service customers outside the pharmacy. This prevented random handling of the products and kept us 6 feet away from the customers. We continued this way for about 12 months and recently reopened the doors.

During the first few weeks of the virus, we learned a lot about it and put together a plan of action so our customers could prevent it or treat the symptoms. We had many customers claim they had the virus and did excellent at home treating it naturally. Many become fearful to enter any hospital after hearing the problems in the New York hospital.

On April 4th, 2020, my father who was also the bookkeeper for the pharmacy died and left me to take over his job and continue with mine, which was already overwhelming. My wife along with the managers maintained the inside operation, while I self trained to learn my father's job.

On May 31, the pharmacy was caught up in the Santa Monica riots and it was fully destroyed. I was assaulted with a hit to the head and knowing what I know helped a golf ball size knot heal in about 10 days.

The morning after the assault I was considering shutting down for good. Between the virus, my dad dying, the riot and assault, I was not sure I wanted to continue.

The next morning, I learned that our staff went to the pharmacy and fully cleaned it up. They further opened a Go Fund Me page, which made my mind up that this pharmacy must go on. I had to remove myself from the situation and realize this pharmacy is for the staff and our customers.

We immediately started rebuilding the entire store from the ground up. During this time, we continued to help our customers outside the building. It took about 4 months to fully rebuild the store and during this time we brought it into the 21st century. This was extremely challenging for my family, our customers, and the staff.

Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy
Steve Litvak and Robert Litvak (President)

What changes have you seen in your customers in the last year?

During the past 14 months we have had an unusual number of new customers contact us by email or visit the store. I think this virus and the difficulties that modern medicine has endured opened the eyes of many that were not aware that there are other ways to help their immune system deal with events like this one.

The media did its share of letting their viewers know about vitamins, which also helped in getting out the word.

Since this problem is not over and will continue for a long time, our customers are now becoming more health conscious and working on better ways to build up their immunity, including dietary changes, exercise, and the right supplements.

Many of them are keeping certain supplements at home just in case they start feeling symptomatic.

Where do you see the pharmacy going from here?

Without knowing the future of this nation, we will continue to help customers in the store, but we now must plan differently and be prepared for the next event that could force us to close the doors again.

We are working aggressively on our website and email systems to handle our customers who do not live locally or who chose not to go out. We are considering having some staff work from home helping customers through telemedicine.

So Steve and his staff continue the legacy. Perhaps Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy signals a hopeful back-to-the-future scenario. A pharmacy that not only offers knowledgeable personalized service, but also practical and helpful health choices without the myriad dangerous side effects of most prescription drugs.

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