Passing by C.O. Bigelow on Sixth Avenue off 8th Street yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice a black & white cat in the window. Curious to know more, I spoke with Bigelow owner Ian Ginsberg today for some background on the cat and learned of the store’s extensive history.
What we know as C.O. Bigelow was originally founded in 1838 by Dr. Galen Hunter as the Village Apothecary Shop, and, according to Mr. Ginsberg, it was a “big gathering place,” as apothecaries were at that time. The original location was next door where LifeThyme now stands. In 1880, the business was purchased by Clarence Otis Bigelow who changed the name and, in 1902, Mr. Bigelow had the building built which bears his name. The store has resided there ever since.
It was a tradition for the business to pass from employer to employee. However, in the ’30’s, the store was somewhat “rundown” so, in 1939, Ian Ginsberg’s grandfather bought it. Ian Ginsberg himself has been around the store “all his life.” The philosophy under his care has been to “remain independent” and not to attempt competing with chain stores like Duane Reade (down the block) but to make the business “something we can own,” playing on its history and independent status. So, you will walk in the store and you will still find a pharmacy as well as Bigelow’s own products alongside unique lines like Jane Iredale and Dr. Hauschka, among many others, and the people who work there are able to tell you about them.
As for Allegra the cat, she is about four years old and came to the store after previous cat Rex, who was well known to customers and had many fans, died. However, Mr. Bigelow, the cat who preceded Rex, was perhaps more famous – warranting his own New York Times obituary! Ian Ginsberg admitted, “We’ve always had cats although I personally am not a big fan [of them]. More people come to see the cat than to see me.”
Allegra, like all the Bigelow cats is a “rescue cat” and her presence is often behind-the-scenes.