Beauty Store Tours: A Glimpse Inside C.O. Bigelow Apothecary

Klaudia Kaczmarek
Beauty Store Tours: A Glimpse Inside C.O. Bigelow Apothecary
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Welcome to Beauty Store Tours, where we visit the most unique cosmetic stores around and tell the tale of our experience. This week, we visited the famous C.O. Bigelow Apothecary in Greenwich Village for a history lesson and grand tour. If you have a store that you recommend we tour, tweet at us @BeautyHigh with the hashtag #StoreTour. 

They say, “If you can’t find it anywhere else, try Bigelow’s.” The store, originally called The Village Apothecary Shop, was founded two doors down from the current location in 1838 by Dr. Galen Hunter and passed down from employer to employee until 1880. That was when Clarence Bigelow, who worked for Dr. Hunter, took over, moved it to a new building, and changed the name to C.O. Bigelow. “The store was always the forefront of medicine,” said Ian Ginsberg, the current president of C.O. Bigelow whose grandfather founded the store in 1939. “It was the place where you got diagnosed and treated. It was a gathering place.”

C.O. Bigelow is a place that brings luxury products and drugstore finds under the same roof. “The store is a collection of our favorite things as well as our own things,” said Ian. “So we travel the world in search of the best of the best. C.O. Bigelow houses a boat load of different brands – ones you’ve heard of like NARS, Clarins, Oribe, and Deborah Lippmann, and others from overseas like Friction de Foucaud, Vivacite(s) de Bach, Carthusia, and Alighiero Campostrini. “There’s not that many places you can go just to ask questions,” said Ian. “Because of the way we talk to people, we find out what people really like. Being in the Village, we see all types of people – young, old, rich, poor. So we really know what all types of people like and what they are willing to pay for things. It’s one thing to buy crap from overseas,” he added. “It’s another thing to buy crap from overseas that’s relevant.” The store carries everything from skincare, hair care, makeup, and brand name and boutique fragrances. You name it, it’s there. “It’s the art of discovery and finding the product that’s going to make you feel and look good. That’s how we live our lives,” he added. “It’s about the experience and how you feel when you’re here, not necessarily what you buy.”

C.O. Bigelow is also the home of the store’s own line of face, body, hair, lip, and men’s products. Some of the products, including the Lemon Body Cream, actually come from the original recipes! Back in the day, if they made something for a customer and they loved it, they would record the recipe and the person who made it.

The employees at C.O. Bigelow are trained in every single brand that lives in the store. Most of the employees have been working at the store for 15 to 30 years. “We can all tell you why the products are special and great. We can back it up,” said Ian. “If you ask for help with hair or skin, the sales associates help you. It’s not about commission, it’s about people telling you about their favorite stuff.”

C.O. Bigelow is now a New York landmark, but not much has changed. Stepping inside the store is like stepping on history. It has the original floors, cabinets, and canvas ceilings. Click through the slideshow above and take a glimpse of the most sophisticated and busiest pharmacy in New York. It’s by far he coolest place in New York to buy anything beauty related. There aren’t many places like it, so make sure to visit the store the next time you’re in the Village.

C.O. Bigelow is located 414 Sixth Avenue. New York, New York 10011.

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Welcome to C.O. Bigelow! 

"Hopefully when you step foot in here, you feel different because you know what we stand for and it makes you feel good," said Ian.

"We make a lot of products. A lot of them are called formularies and they are the original recipes that go back many, many years," said Ian.

"We also take the writing out of the book and it goes on the label," he said.

A selection of C.O. Bigelow candles.

C.O. Bigelow is most famous for the lip gloss balms. There is a huge selection of tints and flavors. 

The store has plenty of gifts to choose from including museum-worthy Soap & Paper Factory candles.

The store carries a variety of unique products including these aromatherapy sniffs from New Zealand. 

You can even come in and get your makeup done for a night out. 

Vivacite(s) de Bach products. "A lot of these brands wouldn't survive in other places because you need to be able to explain what it is and what it's all about," said Ian. 

"Everything is assisted," said Ian. "In the pharmacy, if you want something you have to ask for it. If you want Tylenol you have to ask for it."

"We love taking mundane tasks and making them fun," said Ian. Here, a shot of Marvis toothpaste. C.O. Bigelow actually imports and distributes Marvis to other stores in the country.

According to Ian, Proraso has the best shaving cream in the world. He loves it so much that the brand actually makes shaving cream for C.O. Bigelow (pictured here). 

Ian showed us a book of C.O. Bigelow history. Did you know Mark Twain was a customer? His charge account records are shown here (left page). 

The book is also filled with images of the original product recipes (shown here) and other memorabilia. 

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