Post originated from read the original here: The Californian
Russell and Janet Ostarello sit at the pharmacy counter of their newly opened store in Star Center at South Main and Blanco in Salinas. Russell smiles at his good fortune.
“I went to Palma High School and then on to Hartnell for a couple of years. At that time, all I cared about was sports. Tony Teresa was our coach at Hartnell, great man. He pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Do you know how lucky you are? You need to complete your education beyond your AA. When you finish your schooling, you could not only have a job but a whole career working with your father and maybe running the business someday.’ I remember that talk as a life-changing moment. I thought, maybe that’s what I should do. I went to University of the Pacific and then 4 years of pharmacy school. I graduated on May 1, 1976 and started working for my dad on May 3. Now, here we are, Janet and I, forty years later opening a second store. Strange, at my age.”
But then, maybe not so strange; opening stores seems to run in the Ostarello family.
In the early 1920s, Russell’s grandfather came from Northern Italy to Chicago and then found his way to Santa Clara. Although he had little money, he managed to open his store in Castroville around 1925.
Russell and Janet point to a large photo mural of downtown Castroville in 1930. The sepia graces the westerly wall of the couple’s new space.
“It was kind of eerie,” Russell muses. “Janet and I made the decision to lease and refurbish this place. Frankly, I had forgotten the name of my grandfather’s grocery store. Then one day we were in Castroville at La Scuola Restaurant for a polenta feed. They had these old pictures on the wall and there was Antonio Ostarello’s store. I remembered it from when I was a kid. Then I noticed the sign, Star Market. I mean, we were in the middle of negotiating the lease here and had decided to name our new venture Star Pharmacy and Gifts and there I am, staring at my Grandfather’s grocery store with the same name, Star.” Russell shakes his head in disbelief.
Russell’s father, John, piloted an LTC Boat and dropped troops on Utah Beach on D-Day. After the war, he completed his education in pharmacy at Washington State.
In 1963, John opened his store, Romie Lane Pharmacy, located across the street from Memorial Hospital in South Salinas. The pharmacy flourished under his stewardship, but by the early 80s, John was looking toward retirement; and — just as Coach Teresa had predicted — Russell started running the business. John Ostarello died in 2004.
Despite stiff competition from industry newcomers like CVS and others, Russell has continued Romie Lane Pharmacy’s success and built on its reputation for integrity and personalized service; the hallmarks of his father’s operation.
“Janet and I had been driving past this space practically every day since it went empty five years ago. Janet loves Star Market, next door. She’d talk to Victor Kong, one of the partners there, and he’d say ‘That space has been empty too long. You should take and do something good with it.’ I’ve known Victor since I was 3. He’s a smart guy. He got us thinking about the opportunity.”
We decided to do it about 16 months ago. The place was pretty beat-up — Star Center opened in 1964 — so it had seen some use. Of course, we had to bring everything up to code; fix some structural issues, new flooring, new electrical, heating, air-conditioning, new ceiling.”
Russell surveys the brightly lit area with its fresh shelves, fully stocked. “It looks pretty good now though. Janet insisted that the tenant improvements be right, and the quality shows. We think it’s a great investment in the future of Salinas and for our family. Our son, Matt, helped us build out the improvements. It looks like his next stop is the Fire Academy. The oldest boy, Ross, is an Air Force pilot. He’s up there somewhere flying KC-135s, refueling aircraft. And the youngest, Zach, well, guess what? He’s studying pharmacy at Washington State, just like his granddad did. So, who knows, maybe someday, he’ll take over,” he said.
“Every day, we have people come in to tell us how much they’ve missed shopping here. They loved this store and were disappointed when it shut down. People have been waiting to see what was going to happen. Now, we feel like we’re offering a great space in a great location at just the right time.”
It’s clear that Russell’s energies are focused on running the new pharmacy while continuing to oversee the Romie Lane operation and support its manager, Pharmacist Kam Lee.
Janet is the maven of the establishment’s retail spaces devoted to specialty beverages, gifts, cards, arts and crafts, cosmetics, household goods, stationery, baby clothes, and medical equipment. She circles the store, describing her philosophy.
“Our idea is to sell high-quality goods. We want to focus on locally made products and local artisans. We want to provide a new channel for small-scale entrepreneurs,” Janet said.
“We’ve got two companies from Carmel whose gifts are now sold here; Zearly’s Baby & Gifts and Two Sisters Design, featuring Jewelry and accessories. Grand Pea Designs also provides jewelry and suncatchers. There are cards and figurines designed by Monterey County’s own Elsie Dill, 90-years-old and still creating; and Wild Thyme Botanical provides natural, handmade soaps and lotions. That company is based in Sand City,” she said.
“Over there is our Beverage Bar. Gold Leaf supplies a variety of teas, oils, and balsamic vinegars. We have vegetable sipping broths by Mille — curry spice and spicy tortilla. Sun Ridge Farms produces healthy snack options. B&R Farms has been in Hollister since 1929. It brings dried fruits, jams, and eatable gifts. Here, in the gazebo, we have metal sculptures by Ross Luna, a local artisan.”
“Those prints are Carla Fairey’s work with the Elkhorn Trading Company in Moss Landing,” Janet said. “She’s incredible. She mines jade and other rocks straight out of the ground, cuts and polishes them; and makes this wonderful jewelry and these pieces of art. And over here we have items from Bokay Nursery and from my own company, Ostar Design, offering home décor, fragrance, and candles. And in the beauty section, we have quality skin and make-up.”
As we complete the tour, Russell says, “People have come to Romie Lane Pharmacy for years because they know they will receive consistent, confidential, and personalized service. You can see, this new store is a significant expansion. Our commitment is not only to continue to serve our Romie Lane customers both here and there but also to invite new customers to experience our tradition of individualized service and to discover the array of local artisans, producers, and manufacturers whose goods are now available here at Star Pharmacy & Gifts.”
Edward Moncrief is a freelance reporter for The Salinas Californian. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at edwardmoncrief.com.