Mel Goldfarb reminisces about his life and pharmacy at Mile High Cafe.   Photo by Marshall Smith
Mel Goldfarb reminisces about his life and pharmacy at Mile High Cafe. Photo by Marshall Smith

Mel Goldfarb, pharmacist, counselor and quiet avuncular presence at the Idyllwild Pharmacy, decided not to renew his license and is leaving the profession after 58 years of practice.

“As of Dec. 1, I am no longer a pharmacist,” said Mel. Even though Mel no longer owns the pharmacy he founded in Idyllwild in 1977, he has filled in for new owner Barry Shapiro as needed since selling the business to Shapiro in late 2006. “I decided it was time,” said Mel. “I had been thinking about not renewing the license for about two years, but told Barry my decision three or four months ago.

“There were the continuing education requirements, and Dottie [his wife] and I have travel plans.”

Mel was upbeat in conversation, talking about a cruise to Hawaii and back he and Dottie are planning this month, but there was also a wistfulness about letting go of the last vestige of his profession — his membership in the American Pharmaceutical Association.

“When I came here in 1977 there wasn’t a doctor in town and no one thought a pharmacy could possibly succeed here,” he said. “Everyone said there were too few people to support one.”

Educated at UC Berkley and UC San Francisco after a stint in the Army in Japan, Mel had intended to become a doctor but instead chose the path of becoming a pharmacist.

He recalled a career that began in Orange County that serendipitously involved another Shapiro, Barry’s father, Richard. “We bought a Sav-On [pharmacy] in Santa Ana and called it the MelRich Pharmacy,” said Goldfarb, discussing how proud he has been to have worked most of his life as an independent pharmacist. Quiet and soft spoken, Mel said he felt in his element counseling his patients about their health and pharmaceutical needs. “I love Idyllwild,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place to live. The pharmacy succeeded because people support each other here. They were very appreciative of the advice and counsel from a pharmacist.”

But Mel acknowledged that the profession has grown more complex with the advent of many new drugs and that the continuing education requirements, to stay on top of new advances in drug availability, was becoming a burden. Therefore, he made the decision to sell.

He explained he had a promised sale in 2006, but at the last minute the buyer decided she could not complete the transaction. “It was Thanksgiving and I was at the post office,” said Goldfarb. “She was supposed to be taking over in January [2007] but said she was not confident she could complete the sale.”

He then called his distributor in Orange County. “I told him to see if he could find someone,” Mel recalled. That someone turned out to be Barry, the son of his former partner, Richard Shapiro.

Barry said he recalled telling Mel in 2005 that he was interested if and when Mel decided to sell. He remembered he and his wife were leaving on what he called the vacation of a lifetime (to Argentina) in late November 2006 when he got a call from Mel.

“Don’t do anything until I get back,” said Barry. “I had been looking for a niche pharmacy to purchase,” said Barry, who had grown tired of working as a pharmacist for corporate entities like Rite Aid and Walgreens. Barry explained that he was looking for a more personal environment, not the kind of corporate mindset that characterized national chains he had been working for.

When he returned from Argentina, he began the process of acquiring Idyllwild Pharmacy from Mel. “There was so much regulatory red tape involved,” said Barry. “It took a while to consummate the purchase. I took over on April Fool’s Day in 2007 and I couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out. For me it’s a dream come true. This was the perfect place to buy a pharmacy. It’s very hard for a pharmacist now to purchase in an urban area. I have a great staff who really care about this community.”

He explained that he had known Mel since he was a teenager and that buying the pharmacy from someone who had been in his life for such a long time seemed just right. “He was a trailblazer,” said Barry. “Talk about taking risks. No one thought he could succeed here, that the town was too small. I am so happy for him on how successful he has been and how involved he has been with the community.”

It has been quite an odyssey for Mel, now 86. Born to Russian immigrant parents who emigrated to the U.S. through Canada, he celebrated his 18th birthday in the U.S. Army in Japan, was educated in the prestigious UC Berkeley system, had a career as co-owner and owner of independent pharmacies, volunteered in Idyllwild with the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the Idyllwild Water District board and the Idyllwild Community Fund, and became a trusted and steady presence in the community he loved.

Mel is happy and is not looking back. “After Hawaii, Dottie and I are going to the Baltics,” he said, smiling.