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A Moment with Stanley’s Pharmacy

Stanley George is a pharmacist—but he’s also an urbanite, philosopher and alchemist.

From a young age, the concept of healing—in various incarnations—pervaded this New Yorker’s environment. Still, it wasn’t until the former club kid explored—and expanded—his definition of that term as an adult that he found his true calling: pharmaceuticals for the Now Age.

He studied at the Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy in Brooklyn and did a stint in LA as a pharmacist to the glitterati, but it was when he returned to his native New York and took a formative position at EastRx, a local Chinese medicine clinic, that everything changed. The education he received there led him to realize a longtime dream: In 2013, George opened Stanley’s Pharmacy, the first wellness bar and pharmaceutical practice on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, offering individualized remedies for everything from hangovers to colds.

Here, Stanley George explains why he’s inspired to redefine the notion of medicine:

Live The Process: Were you raised around medicine and healing or did you discover your passion for wellness on your own?

Stanley George: Well, it’s kind of funny, but I was raised with both in very different ways and eventually found my own way. When my parents immigrated to the Bronx from Kerala, India, they brought with them a wealth of cultural health traditions. My mother fused many of these ideas into her nursing practice and, so, riding this line between Eastern and Western schools was something with which she raised me.

Paradoxically, they were also devout evangelical Christians. Religious faith healers and healing were as much a central theme for me growing up as the idea of going to medical school. After high school, I entered divinity school and was on the fast-track to an accelerated medical school program that led to global mission work. I took a hard right though—somewhere between organic chemistry class and the early 90s rave scene—that eventually led to my expulsion from seminary.  That's when I knew what I was supposed to do. 

I moved to the East Village in 1993 and entered Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy in Downtown Brooklyn. The East Village was a burgeoning gem at the time. Can you imagine? Hippies and punks co-existing in a vegan fantasyland. I absorbed everything around me: became a vegetarian, bought a juicer, learned yoga in Tompkins Square Park. It was a reset button for me in terms of what health and healing could be—both for myself and in the practice of pharmacy. Once I began studying toxicology in school and pharmaceuticals used in the agricultural industry, it became a different kind of mission for me.

The concept of wellness is finally starting to take root at a critical mass now after all these years. It's incredible!

LTP: How did you come to conceive and launch Stanley’s Pharmacy?

SG: It was really a coast-to-coast miracle.

I started conceiving Stanley’s Pharmacy during my LA tenure. The culture is so different than New York’s in that people are less willing to compromise their health for a demanding career. That belief system is almost embedded in people's expectations of each other—quite the opposite of New York. At first, I didn’t take the idea seriously enough because I was more concerned with moonlighting as a musician. It was always like, “I'll do it one day.”

After returning to New York, though, I wanted something different. I took up residency in an East meets West clinic for the older community of Chinatown. It was the most interesting and fulfilling thing I'd ever been a part of professionally at the time. I was the only person of non-Chinese decent involved in the practice and I learned so much there. I really came into my own and the community welcomed me. During those years, it felt like time stood still—and then Hurricane Sandy hit. The landlord sold the building almost immediately afterward and the Burmese doctors I worked with decided it was time to move on.

There was no way I was going to return to the more traditional pharmacy channels that were available. I decided to carry on the practice in my own way. I saw the neighborhood changing quickly. Chinatown’s community was moving to the outer boroughs fast and young kids were moving in. I knew exactly what they needed: a dose of California and a far out pharmacist who understood their weekend ways. I basically took the same practice and wrapped it in a different cover, so to speak. 

Pharmacy has gone so far from its original roots; Stanley's is a return to that. Customers can tell me how they feel or pick a feeling from the menu and—based on our intersection of culinary arts, chemistry and the world of plant-based medicine—we whip up a refreshing, sexy beverage that feels and tastes great. You also get a song and dance from me, while I'm mixing up the medicine. It's a real experience-based place, where interaction is a must.

LTP: You value an individualized approach to health: Why is it so important to find a balance between plant-based and prescription medication for each person?

SG: Great question. Every situation is unique. Still, the problems don't change— only the levels of severity and the people who come attached to them do. Different age groups and races have different risk factors and then there are hereditary issues that you just can’t fight. These factors can only be maintained.  In order to decide which modalities to use (natural? prescription? both?), we evaluate all of these factors—and the aggression level of the issue. It’s definitely a hybrid mentality that draws from the best that Western medicine has to offer alongside Chinese medicine, European homeopathy and Ayurveda. There is a lot of overlap in all these schools of practice.

LTP: What wellness rituals, practices and products keep you, personally, feeling happy, healthy and balanced these days?

SG: I’m a Virgo and that really comes out in all my health rituals! I'm pretty regimented when it comes to hygiene, self-care, diet and fitness. I need, and use, everything in the wellness bar at Stanley’s. I wouldn't push it on everyone if I wasn’t such a big believer myself. That's definitely what I am: a user and a pusher! All my juices; all my shots!

I'm really big on hygiene rituals: Cosmetic sciences were a big part of my education and I've been making all my own stuff for years (all natural). I need to have that fresh-all-day feeling, otherwise I feel lousy about myself. I guess that's the Virgo in me too.

I'm also big into fitness. I bike daily, swim several times a week and have a hybrid workout that incorporates boxing, yoga, dumbbells and a trampoline.

Remember: the most important things you can do for your health are laugh a lot, dance a lot, love a lot and embrace conscious eating. Of course, don't forget to exfoliate!

 

LTP: What does happiness look like to you? 

SG: Goodness! Does happiness have a look?  I better have my eyes checked then, so I don't miss it in a New York minute! 

There is a quote, though, from my Zen teacher: “True happiness lies in the ease and flexibility with which we can move through change.” We can never step in the same river twice, and life is never linear or constant. Stay light, keep it moving and watch for the hustles. That's all. I’m a New Yorker; I can't help it.

LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?

SG: I look at life and one’s health as a process—always shifting and in a state of flux based on internal versus external factors. All the products I push and modalities I use are just tools to help you navigate through the process of good and bad together. Those elements never change. It's all about acceptance of this, I think.

Everything takes time. Once you understand that life is a flower that slowly unfolds, you're not in as much of a hurry to get somewhere that your mind has dreamed up for you. Somewhere between setting those goals and achieving them is where the process lies, and you've got to stop and smell the roses along the way. Otherwise, it’s all meaningless.