On a quiet Soho side street, this mom-and-pop pharmacy has been serving as a local hangout and a boutique for French skincare products since 1994 — but almost didn’t make it through the pandemic.
Despite over the years surviving a catastrophic fire, the birth of online shopping and the neighborhood’s transformation from an industrial wasteland into a pricey playground for the wealthy, COVID nearly killed Thompson Chemists — until the owners started posting on their TikTok account, which now boasts an enthusiastic following.
“We’ve had an over-200% business increase thanks to socials,” estimated Jolie “Mama J” Alony, who speaks five languages, hails from both the south of France and the Upper East Side, and runs the bright green Thompson Street outpost with her husband of 32 years, “Medicine Man” Gary.
“We were just hanging on by the bare minimum — there’s no customers, no nothing,” Jolie said of the pandemic’s darkest days when, with extra time on their hands, she and Gary began more actively maintaining their website — and posting on Facebook, Instagram and, with their youngest daughter’s encouragement, TikTok.
“All of a sudden, I don’t know how or why, we went viral. And then we just kept going viral, and people kept coming in and saying ‘I saw you on Tiktok’ and they want to meet me.”
Jolie was a natural for the platform, where her entertaining extroversion and generous antics — like randomly giving away test samples to “winners” while banging on a cymbal-cowbell-log instrument that a patron once gifted her — immediately translated into tens of thousands of views and raised awareness for Thompson Chemists’ indie existence, not to mention its inventory of hard-to-find, cult-favorite French imports.
An array of cult-favorite French skin goodies, such as Nuxe dry oil, the powerful over-the-counter A313 retinol pomade and Biafine — an emulsion cream that’s long been used in France to treat skin irritations and burns.
The boutique pharmacy periodically hosts live music shows, which passersby catch from the outside.
Gary and Jolie share Thompson Chemists’ bench, above which a block bearing the word “generous” appeared mysteriously some time ago. The couple chose to not remove it.
“They carry higher quality,” 23-year-old Nick O’Brien told The Post while inspecting a wall of the store’s French beauty staples, including Nuxe’s dry oil, Biafine emulsion and Homeoplasmine ointment — the latter of which is known as a richer Vaseline (and a good nighttime lip mask).
“It’s hard to find. There’s not a lot” of US stores that offer such Parisian flesh delights, said Jessica Gatolala, 36.
“The new generation has an appreciation for quality, the younger people are all about skin,” said Irit Ogara, an employee of 30 years who met her husband, an area super, through the shop when he came in to complain about the promotional fliers they were distributing.
Originally an esthetician, Ogara says she’s consistently been impressed by the knowledge today’s young people have about skincare, as well as the quality of their skin.
Since her newfound virality, Jolie says certain brands in particular have been selling faster than she can restock them.
“The A313 can’t stay on the shelf,” she noted of a particularly popular and powerful retinol pomade prized by product pros for — as with most of Jolie’s French offerings — being composed of much more basic, natural ingredients than many of its American equivalents.
“French skincare is built on tradition and innovation with formulas that have been proven to be efficient without forgetting pleasure of senses with texture and scent,” Marie-Laure Fournier, President of Fournier PR + Consulting, told The Post. “Lately, all the brands are going either natural or organic with research on how to improve sustainability, upcycling, fair-trade ingredient sourcing and more environment-friendly packaging that is tuned in with values that Gen Z are demanding.”
Gary smiles from behind the counter.
Jolie has gotten the nickname “Mama J” for her maternal energy and caring approach to life.
A recent Thompson Street Medicine live-music performance.
While social media has been helpful in spreading awareness of such products, a certain hit Netflix show has actually arguably served as even better marketing for Thompson’s European goods.
“‘Emily in Paris’ has been a big effect,” Scents of Europe beauty distributor and 20-year industry veteran Alexandrine Aubry told The Post, saying the show has been something of an enormous advertising campaign for French products and its laid-back, pleasure prioritizing lifestyle — both of which Thompson Chemists offers.
“It’s a social club, [patrons] come to socialize,” said Aubry of the store’s cafe-like energy as Jolie prepared her an espresso, free of charge. And as seen on its social media channels, the pharmacy even hosts small concerts.
Multiple collaborations have resulted from musicians — including the late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh — meeting each other at the store, making for just a portion of the star-studded stories in Jolie and Gary’s arsenal.
“Brad Pitt used to come all the time when he was with Gwyneth,” recalled Jolie, with Gary adding, “He bummed a cigarette off my mother.”
Patti Smith is also “a really good customer,” and once Sarah Jessica Parker came by and spoke extensively with Gary, who only realized who she was after her doctor rang in her script.
Social media, said Jolie, has given the shop a new lease on life.
The shop boasts a full wall of French pharmacy products.
In addition to filling scripts, slinging French brands and serving as a celebrity stomping grounds, Thompson Chemists also sells its own lines of CBD products, candles, vegan nail polish and shelves of haircare from Hollywood hair stylist Philip B., both a brand and a man with whom Jolie constantly FaceTimes.
“He’s my best friend,” she said, FaceTiming him, as her lawyer walks in and declares her and Gary “amazing people, a credit to this neighborhood.”
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