Still Thriving After 160 Years: Hieber’s Pharmacy in Pennsylvania

Pharmacy TimesDecember 2023
Volume 89
Issue 12

Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko, PharmD, is the fourth owner and first female owner of pittsburgh’s oldest pharmacy

Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko, PharmD, is the pharmacist in charge and owner of Hieber’s Pharmacy. The pharmacy is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, among the hustle and bustle of the University of Pittsburgh and just a few minutes from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.

Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko, PharmD, stands in front of Hieber’s Pharmacy |  Image credit: Pittsburgh Flyover

Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko, PharmD, stands in front of Hieber’s Pharmacy | Image credit: Pittsburgh Flyover

Sassic-Mihalko is a 2011 graduate of a neighboring Pittsburgh pharmacy school, Duquesne University School of Pharmacy.

After working in long-term care for approximately 5 years, Sassic-Mihalko was ready to find a new position that would make her feel “fulfilled and worth something,” she recalled. When a friend reached out to let her know that the owner of Hieber’s was looking for a junior partner, she decided to meet him. “What could it hurt?” she remembered thinking.

“Well, we hit it off, and he offered me a part-time position to get familiar. A 3- to 5-year partnership turned into a full purchase in 18 months,” Sassic-Mihalko explained.

Hieber’s Pharmacy was started in the 1860s by the Hieber brothers in a nearby neighborhood called the Strip District. After many years with several locations and partnership changes, Hieber’s landed at its current location in Oakland in the 1940s, where it remains now, 80 years later.

Sassic-Mihalko proudly noted, “I am just the fourth owner and first female owner in Pittsburgh’s oldest pharmacy.”

Hieber’s Pharmacy offers many services, including sterile and nonsterile compounding, cannabidiol, disease state consultations, and immunizations. Because Hieber’s uses many wholesalers, they can “track down almost any crazy thing someone wants,” Sassic-Mihalko said. “Father John’s [dextromethorphan] cough syrup is a heavy hitter here.”

With an extensive compounding service, Hieber’s compounds many types of medications, such as betahistine to manage vertigo and tinnitus associated with Ménière disease, trimix for erectile dysfunction, and low-dose naltrexone, which is used for many types of pain, autoimmune conditions, and other medical conditions.

Like many independent pharmacists, Sassic-Mihalko focuses on building close relationships with patients and community members.

“It’s important to me that we acknowledge our [patients]. No one comes to a pharmacy because they want to. Our patients are sick, annoyed, angry, and exhausted,” Sassic-Mihalko said. “Our goal is to make them glad they came to Hieber’s and have a better day once they leave. Then maybe they will eventually look forward to stopping in.”

Inside Hieber’s Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Image credit: Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko

Inside Hieber’s Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Image credit: Rosemary Sassic-Mihalko

Sassic-Mihalko is also opening a second location in the Strip District, which she said will have fun new offerings to draw patients.

“My new store will have a soda fountain where we will offer house-curated soda, milkshakes, and ice cream floats,” she said. “If that doesn’t welcome someone in, I am not sure what will.”

Sassic-Mihalko uses various social media platforms to promote the pharmacy, including Instagram, Facebook, and the occasional TikTok video.

“I have found that our real pictures and videos of staff and the store perform much better than stock photos or generic informational posts. I created a social media and marketing internship position to help us maintain our accounts,” she explained.

Sassic-Mihalko also shared a humbling story that showed that honesty is the best policy. A mother had called about her daughter’s prescription for eye drops, which hadn’t been filled amid the chaos of the day. Sassic-Mihalko personally delivered the eye drops that evening and said the mother was incredibly thankful.

“I tried to explain that we were responsible and I was just making it right. She responded by telling me that she had not seen that from many people in this world, let alone [from] a pharmacy. I felt sad for our society at that moment, but it was the first time I saw myself making a positive impact. I would rather lose a few bucks in gas than let one of my patients down,” Sassic-Mihalko said.

She added that this type of service is what sets the pharmacy apart and has led to its success for 160 years.

“What sets us apart is that we’ve been here nearly forever, and despite how much we have grown, we are still the same hometown, know-your-name, friendly people,” Sassic-Mihalko said.

About the Author

Karen Berger, PharmD, is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in northern New Jersey.

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