One feature that sets Sal's Pharmacy on Solano Avenue in Berkeley apart from other drugstores is the section of organic herbs and teas sold in bulk.
The business, which opened in May at 1831 Solano Ave. next door to Peet's coffee in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, is a full-service pharmacy that fills prescriptions and offers many of the items typically sold in drugstores. And it also features jars of loose herbs and tea that customers can weigh and bag themselves.
"I think what's different is the herbs and teas we sell," said Mona Nassar, wife of pharmacist Sal Nassar, after whom the family-run business is named. "They're organic."
Sal said he originally had a different name in mind for the business.
"I was going to call it Solano Pharmacy, but my kids said a lot of people know me, so it might be good to call it (Sal's)," he said.
It's not surprising that many people know him. He's worked in local pharmacies for many years, including the Thousand Oaks Pharmacy where he helped out his cousin Sam Totah, who owned the business for 27 years until it was sold to Pharmaca, which moved the business further down the street to 1742 Solano and reopened it under the Pharmaca name in 2002.
Sal also purchased what had been Guy's Drug Store at University and San Pablo avenues and ran it as Safety Drugs from 1984 to 1997, he said. He also worked four or five years at Pharmaca.
He then tried "different things" for a couple of years and decided to open Sal's Pharmacy in part because those who know him suggested he do so. "We had a good rep with people and they kind of encouraged me to come back," he said.
"Our main difference between us and the chains, I know the customers, I know the families," he said.
And there are the jars of organic herbs and teas.
One of the most popular bulk herbs, he said, is milk thistle seed, believed to be "very good for your liver." Popular among the teas are Lemon Balm and Passion Flower, he said.
Also unusual is the piano inside the drugstore, which sits beneath a bulletin board and next to the front door. "That's my daughter," he explained. "She likes to play when things are slow."
The family's three children – son Nizar and daugthers Shereen and Rasham – help out in the business.
Also out of the ordinary for a drugstore is the local art hanging on the walls. "We encourage local artists to display their work," he said. If they make a sale, all the proceeds go to the artist, he added. Currently on display are five pieces by Berkeley artist Robert Herzstein.