There is nothing quite like your good old neighbourhood pharmacy. And in Côte Saint-Luc two in particular have stood out for many years - the Pharmaprix at The Quartier Cavendish and its smaller sister location on Caldwell Avenue. Both are owned by pharmacist David Banon and his wife Sarah Ettedgui. I frequent both, but for prescriptions I have always preferred the incredible personalized service at Caldwell, notably by lab technicians Thomas Virta and Sheila Cohen and the girl with the biggest smile in town, Venice Pedua. Then there are then pharmacists and one whom I first met many years ago at Caldwell was the incredible Saul Singer.
Saul, who retired August 11 at 88 years young, is a special human being. While he worked at both locations, at Caldwell he had direct contact with the clients. After filling a prescription he`d walk over to the counter and go over all of the instructions. When a doctor called something in, he`d reach out to the patient as well. And it was not uncommon for him to call the house to see if everything was going okay. I always enjoyed my chats with Saul and consider him a truly stand up guy.
In July I saluted him in my Suburban Newspaper column. A few days later I was told he was retiring. Then came this email from a reader named Maurice Panchyshyn.
Reading Mike Cohens' article '"Age is a State of mind " brought me back 63 years.. As a youth I went to Bancroft School and after school I worked as a delivery messenger ( 1951-52 ) for Arena Pharmacy where Saul Singer was the pharmacist. Since credit cards were non existant Arena Pharmacy extended credit to its clients. On a Sunday I collected one dollar from a client who was quite delinquent.. Mr Singer upon noting my success was not necessarily pleased.. He sensed that I may have been overly zealous and pointed out that the family was old, poor and not well and possibly might not have money for food. He handed me back the dollar and asked that I give it back to them. As an eleven - twelve year old I did not fully understand his kindness and community responsibility.Since then I have shared this story many times and have always remembered the pharmacist who helped the underpriviledged of the community. God Bless you, Mr. Saul Singer.
Not only did I reach out to Maurice and invite him to the retirement reception David Banon organized, but I shared his letter with the media. Not only was Maurice reunited with Saul, but my emails to CTV, The Gazette and The Free Press resulted in their attendance. Mayor Anthony Housefather also joined us and presented Saul with a special certificate. The mayor also received a lot of support from people on hand for his bid to become the next Member of Parliament for Mount Royal under the Liberal banner.
Here is the Gazette story
Montreal pharmacist Saul Singer retires after 61 years of 'talking to people'
After dispensing prescription drugs to thousands of Montrealers over the past 61 years, Saul Singer filled his last pill bottle this week. The popular Côte-St-Luc pharmacist has decided to hang up his white lab coat and retire — at age 88.
His retirement has saddened longtime customers, many of whom came to wish him well at a retirement party on Tuesday at the Pharmaprix on Caldwell Ave. where he worked.
“I will miss the contact with the people, I have enjoyed every minute of it,” said Singer, a humble man who is renowned for giving exceptional customer service.
Singer would often call his customers late at night or the next day to check up on their health or to see whether they had any problems with the medication.
He learned the importance of customer service while working at the Arena Pharmacy, his father’s drugstore on Mont-Royal Ave., next door to Beautys Restaurant. He started stocking shelves at age 13 and eventually became a pharmacist himself after graduating from the Université de Montréal in 1954.
After his father’s death, Singer took over the family business and worked at serving the burgeoning Greek community that had settled in the neighbourhood. He hired two Greek sisters who taught him the language and he imported a typewriter with Greek letters so he could type the prescription instructions in Greek for the new immigrants. “The Greek people really appreciated it,” Singer recalled on Tuesday. “When the Greeks left, the Portuguese moved in so I hired Portuguese staff and learned Portuguese.”
About 15 years ago, Singer’s daughter, Susan, was talking to the owners of a Greek restaurant in Clearwater, Fla. and learned that they had once lived in Montreal. When she asked whether they knew Saul Singer, the pharmacist, she wasn’t surprised when they said they did. “When they first came over from Greece their baby was sick and they had no money,” Susan Singer recalled. “My dad said: ‘Don’t worry, you can pay me when you can. Take the medicine.’ They said they would never forget my father.”
The next year, Singer joined his daughter in Florida and met up with his old customers. “I knew they had to know my father because Greek people living in Montreal all knew my father,” she said.
Singer said he has enjoyed his years as a pharmacist and loved talking to his customers and listening to their problems. “People like a sympathetic ear,” he said. “I didn’t like baseball or other sports. Talking to people was my thing.” Singer’s family said he often looked out for people who were down on their luck and invited them into the pharmacy and gave them lunch.
Singer eventually sold his business — Singer Pharmacy — to a Pharmaprix in the Plateau Mont-Royal in 2005, before taking a job at two pharmacies closer to home, one on Caldwell Ave. and another in the Cavendish Mall in Côte-St-Luc. Although he left the Plateau several years ago, many customers and colleagues still have fond memories of the soft-spoken pharmacist.
A while back, Singer’s granddaughter Meaghan Singer was in a bar on Laurier Ave. called the Baldwin Barmacie when she saw a familiar name on the drinks menu. The bar was selling a ‘Saul Singer’, a Vodka drink with apple juice. A relative of the bar owner, who also worked at a pharmacy, dealt with Singer during his years on the Plateau, and the family decided to name a drink after him as a mark of respect. After his granddaughter called him with the surprising news, Singer headed down to the bar the next night. Although he isn’t much of a drinker, he decided to give the Saul Singer a try. “I figured if they took the trouble to name it after me, I should try it,” Singer joked.
Saul Singer, centre, a pharmacist for 61 years, watches as his wife Arlene cuts his cake on the day of his retirement: Aug. 11, 2015. CHRISTINNE MUSCHI / MONTREAL GAZETTE
Singer’s wife, Arlene, said her husband was concerned about every customer that he served. “He is very special,” she said of her husband of 60 years. “When we walk through the Cavendish Mall, everyone shakes his hand and then tells me how he is so wonderful. I am blessed to have a man like him in my life.”
David Banon, who employed Singer at two Pharmaprix stores in Côte-St-Luc, said Singer came to work on time, with a smile on his face and a joke to tell. “He was a great example to all of us,” Banon said. “It’s really hard for the customers. Many are his longtime friends and he has seen their families (grow up).”
Singer said he is retiring partly to deal with a few minor health issues. He isn’t sure how he will take to retirement, but he plans to keep busy, keep moving and keep reading. When asked whether he had a last message to his loyal customers, Singer’s eyes filled with tears. “It was a real pleasure to serve them. I loved them all.”