Woodlawn joins hands for neighbor

The charred remains of Woodlawn’s Emerald Pharmacy serve as a black scar on the main artery of this tight-knit Irish neighborhood.

On August 15, Pharmacy owner Shawn Nealis could only sit on the double yellow traffic lines in the middle of the street and watch as a three-alarm blaze tore through his Katonah Avenue store.

Emerald, a rare privately owned independent pharmacy, has served Woodlawn for over a decade, keeping loyal customers.

Now the community is rallying behind its beloved but battered pharmacy by holding a fundraiser for the struggling shop.

“Woodland Strong” will take place on Saturday, October 5 at The Rambling House, the local Irish watering hole across the street on Katonah Avenue from where the Emerald stood before the fire.

“Once we saw it happen, we knew we had to do something,” said Mike Wren, who helped organize the event and went to grammar school with Nealis as a kid in Woodlawn. “I owe a lot of my parents’ wellbeing to Shawn and the staff there.”

Nealis doubled the size of Emerald’s store just two years ago, taking over a neighboring shop. As he watched the flames engulf his renovated pharmacy, Nealis admits that he questioned whether the rebuilding process was worth the fight.

“There was nothing left, everything was ruined,” he said. “If it’s not burnt, it has smoke or water damage. But after hearing from the community, we knew we had to keep going.”

For the last month, Emerald has done just that, frantically keeping up with its patients’ prescriptions by doing deliveries out of a partner pharmacy in Mount Vernon.

Nealis hopes to open up at a temporary location down the road on Katonah Avenue soon while the original store is rebuilt.

The idea for the fundraiser was formed by a group of Nealis’ friends from the neighborhood and quickly spread on Facebook, Wren said, where its event page has already accrued over 400 attendees.

Suggested donation is $20, but the organizers do not have a specific number they’re looking to raise. The goal is to provide funding for general repairs and paying employees, many of whom are Woodlawn locals, Wren said.

“We wanted to do what we could to help. Sean’s business is a lifeline to the community. They know them, understand their issues,” Wren said.

The event will start at 4 p.m in The Rambling House’s Party Room and will feature a raffle and a performance from the Deirdre O’Mara School of Irish Dance.

“We’re happy to host and help in any way we can,” said pub manager Tara Carty. “Emerald is so important, especially for our senior citizens, who have no other place within walking distance.”

Nealis said he was surprised to hear that the fundraiser was put together, but is flattered by the community support.

“Reading some of the posts on Facebook, it blew me away,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s humbling.”

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