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Latin pharmacy, ‘Las Americas,’ opens in Riverhead

Diana Restrepo comes from humble beginnings, having worked in substandard conditions in Colombia for nominal pay. She came to the United States 18 years ago with her son, Sebastian Mesa, and now they are opening the doors to their second independent pharmacy. 

Las Americas Pharmacy on Route 58, across from Peconic Bay Medical Center and next to Dunkin’ Donuts in Riverhead, opened three weeks ago. Ms. Restrepo and Mr. Mesa say they are excited for what’s to come.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in the Hispanic community here,” Mr. Mesa, 20, said. “My mom comes from a very hardworking background. She is an example for me because she came from ‘the mud.’ She came from a very poor part of the country.”

Already running a pharmacy business in Jackson Heights, Queens, called Nueva Luz, Spanish for “new light,” Ms. Restrepo said she welcomes the opportunity. She owns Nueva Luz, and manages both pharmacies. Her son is the owner of the Riverhead location.

“For me, life is about challenges,” she said. “If there is no challenge, there is no real gain.” She said the journey has been long and that she was involved in many businesses before entering this one.

Nueva Luz opened nearly four years ago in the bustling Queens community where east meets west and every road converges into a single melting pot. Referred to by the New York Department of State as “the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world,” Queens — and more specifically Jackson Heights — has no shortage of privately owned convenience stores or pharmacies.

“In Jackson Heights … there is one independent pharmacy every two blocks,” Ms. Restrepo said. “We wanted to explore a new market. Over here, I don’t see that many independent pharmacies and no focus on the Latin market.”

Riverhead has seen a significant uptick in its Latin American population over the last few decades. As of July 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, people of Hispanic or Latino race and origin made up 20.3% of the total population — making it the third largest population here.

Las Americas Pharmacy aims to provide one-on-one care, Ms. Restrepo said. The two-aisle set-up includes convenience items, like personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and household appliances such as coffee makers, rice cookers, sandwich makers and irons. Mr. Mesa orders from distributors who import their product from different parts of South America.

The pharmacy section in the back, though not open for another two weeks, will house a supervising pharmacist, a secondary pharmacist and a pharmacy technician. All additional staff members are required to have some health experience.

Both Ms. Restrepo and Mr. Mesa are bilingual and will have at least one bilingual pharmacist on staff. The pharmacy will accept e-prescriptions, as well as most types of insurance and will provide medical advice to all customers.

Aside from prescription products, a wide variety of alternative remedies is available over-the-counter, like a bee venom and viper oil analgesic ointment that is traditionally used in Latin America for pain relief. Vitamins, antioxidant-filled teas and herbs are available as well.

Las Americas also offers complimentary glucose and blood pressure testing, along with vaccinations. Deliveries are limited to prescriptions and will be made free of charge.

“I know a lot of situations where patients can’t fully communicate with the pharmacist or the technician,” said Mr. Mesa, who has been learning how to run the business under his mother’s tutelage for about four years.

“Here, because we’re a private pharmacy, we can give our patients private, customized attention unlike the chain pharmacies,” he said. “Chain pharmacies are so big, I bet the pharmacist doesn’t even know their patient’s names or histories. We want to change that so you’re not just a number.”

Mr. Mesa said that the majority of customers who have come in since the shop’s May 13 opening have been Hispanic, but others have walked in too, expressing interest and seeking advice.

Ms. Restrepo said it is important to her, as a Colombian, to share her culture with others. She said she believes everyone deserves a chance, but that they have to work for it. Mr. Mesa said he and his mother are thankful for the opportunity they’ve had.

“One of the more important things is how we make people feel,” Ms. Restrepo said. “You don’t remember me because of the service that I give or what I said to you, you remember me because of how I made you feel at that moment.”

Las Americas Pharmacy is currently open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. When the pharmacy section is ready to be unveiled in a few weeks, Saturday evening hours will be extended.

Caption: Sebastian Mesa at Las Americas Pharmacy in Riverhead last week. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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