The heyday of drugstores in Budapest

Cologne, lady's powder, moustache twirler, these are just some of the popular products that residents of Budapest could find on the shelves of drugstores. The store of the Neruda family served the demands of people of the capital for three generations. This week, you can get a glimpse into another exciting slice of trade history, the world of druggists.

From Neruda to István Bartha

14_066.jpgNándor Neruda, whose father was already a druggist, is often mentioned as a pioneer of the Hungarian drugstore society. He studied the profession in Prague. The shop called 'Golden beehive' was opened in 1872 in Hatvani Street, which is Kossuth Lajos Street today. What could you get in the herbal and perfume shop?

Besides herbs and toiletries, such as lady’s powder, moustache twirler, traditional chemicals like bleach and stain removers were also available there. It is interesting that Neruda gave the name of his shop “to the Golden Beehive”, as bees are traditionally associated with the savings cooperatives.

During this period, there were only a few perfume shops in the city; herbs were usually sold in markets such as Rózsa Square market that disappeared permanently from the map of the capital due to the construction of the Elizabeth Bridge.
The business prospered so well that in 1891 it moved to the neighbouring “iron house” that was built then - later the Úttörő (Pioneer) Store -, its shop window was famous far and wide.  In a lush palm grove, huge bars of soaps and alums advertised the triumph of beauty and neatness. Nándor Neruda was an exemplary seller; he tried to be available to his customers in everything. Nothing proves this better than his sometimes 150-160-page catalogues, with which he informed his dear customers about his stock.

KD_1982_264_1_36.jpgAmong the products offered, many were made according to his own recipes. Among the perfumes, Neruda’s rose, violet, and lily of the valley scents were the most famous ones; the latter owed its freshness to freshly picked lilies of the valley. According to the price list of the store, the imported goods came from Paris mainly, but his customers could also choose among products of companies in London, Berlin and Vienna.
In 1895, he had to move back to his original business premises because of the high-risen rent. The Simon Holzer’s Fashion House moved to the place, but even in 1906, the author of the Druggists’ Gazette remembered the old Neruda store with nostalgia, especially its shop window. During the World War I, the store moved again, now to the other side of Kossuth Lajos Street, under number 10. The richly carved oak furniture is the oldest listed shop furniture in Hungary, which was also renovated in 1984.
Even then, there were many brands on the market that sound familiar today: Nestlé's main warehouse for baby food was in Neruda’s store.

From István Bartha to Azúr

The family owned the business for three generations. The founder Nándor and his son were not qualified chemists yet, but the son who followed them was already involved in running the shop as a pharmacist. His innovation was that he set up a herbal farm in Telepy Street in Ferencváros, where the herbs were dried using the most modern procedures. Finally, he was unable to keep the business, because in the 1930s the demand for finished medicines increased rather than herbs. In 1938, the drugstore was sold to the Molnár and Moser Company that was István Bartha. The rival companies were barely two hundred meters far from one another, as Molnár and Moser were in Petőfi Street. The drugstore, founded in 1889, was not made famous by the naming founders József Molnár and János Moser, but by pharmacist István Bartha, owing to his excellent merchant vein. Dr. Bartha bought all pharmacies and cosmetics stores that were in accordance with his profession.


F_72_221_1.jpgThis is how he acquired the drugstore at 11 Petőfi Sándor Street, the branch store on the ground floor of 23 Váci Street, and the Neruda store at 10 Kossuth Lajos Street, which he could not run for a long time. His perfume empire was nationalized in 1949, so of course the laboratory in Magyar Street was closed down as well. The store in Kossuth Lajos Street operated as the 111th branch of the Illatszerbolt Vállalat (Perfumery Company), under the name Camea. After the change of regime, the drugstore chain Azúr rented the room steeped in the history of perfumes.

Translated by Zita Aknai



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