Prior to 1850, William B. Riker established a drug store on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan’s Flatiron District that he, and later, his son, William H. Riker, operated up through the early 1890’s. Subsequently, under several different management teams it would morph into the largest retail drug chain in the country all while continuing to exhibit the Riker name.
The senior Riker was a native of New York City who, according to his February 23, 1906 “New York Times” obituary was born in 1821 on Duane Street in lower Manhattan. Another obituary, this one published in the “New York Herald,” gets the story of his career started.
He entered the drug business early in life with John Meakin, then was associated with Dr. Hunter.
Riker likely served as a clerk for druggist Meakin, whose business was listed with an address of 511 Broadway during the early to mid-1840’s. His association with “Dr. Hunter” is less clear. There were two physicians named Hunter listed in Manhattan during the early to mid-1840’s. One, Adam T. Hunter, listed an address of 161 Hudson Street. The other, Galen Hunter, was located at 116 Sixth Avenue about a block or so from Meakin’s drug store, so I suspect he’s our Dr. Hunter.
According to most accounts, it was sometime in 1846 that Riker established his own drug store on Sixth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets. That being said, he’s not mentioned in the NYC directories until 1848/1849 when he was listed as:
William B. Riker, apothecary, 353 Ave. 6.
So suffice to say, he was certainly in business by the late 1840’s.
Not long after, in 1850, Riker partnered with a man named George W. Berrian, Jr. and the business operated under the name “Riker & Berrian” for the next 10 years. This April 13, 1854 “New York Times” advertisement named Riker & Berrian’s drug store as the Manhattan depot for a proprietary product called “Lyon’s Magnetic Powder and Pills.”
Sometime in 1860 or 1861 the Berrian name was dropped and throughout the 1860’s the business was simply listed as William B. Riker. Then sometime around 1870 he added his son’s name to the listing, calling it W. B. Riker & Son. To the best of my knowledge it was first listed this way in the 1871 Goulding’s Business Directory.
Late in the 1870’s the Riker’s began to manufacture their own proprietary products (or at least products that included the Riker name in the title). The first Riker named product I can find advertised was “Riker’s American Face Powder.” The ad appeared in the September 1, 1878 edition of the “New York Herald.”
The ad made the point that their face powder was “endorsed by the leading dramatic artists.” Several years later another advertisement, this one in the November 7, 1882 edition of the “New York Tribune,” went on to name several of these artists.
By the early to mid 1880’s the company had added a few more products sporting the Riker name as evidenced by this October 21, 1883 “New York Sun” advertisement.
Although their list of proprietary products was growing, up through the mid-1880’s company advertisements continued to refer to the business as simply “druggists” with the single address of 353 Sixth Avenue. This suggests that any manufacturing was done on a limited scale and the operation was conducted at the retail location on Sixth Avenue. That changed in 1887 when, now calling themselves “druggists and manufacturing chemists,” the company began listing laboratory/factories on Manhatan’s Clarkson Street and Washington Street. Located at the intersection of Clarkson and Washington, I suspect it was actually one location with addresses on both streets.
A November 11, 1887 advertisement in New York’s “Evening World” made it clear that by then their “American Face Powder” was one of many “Riker Preparations.”
The same advertisement went on to list several perfumes manufactured by the company as well.
It was around this time that the senior Riker turned the business over to his son as evidenced by his own testimony in a court case (William Comyns against William H. Riker, William B. Riker & Son Company and William B. Riker).
Q. When did you dispose of or withdraw from the business?
Witness: I gave a bill of sale; I sold my business out in 1887, December 15th; but I had been previously out of business; I had nothing to do, my son did everything, and took the entire profits for at least a year previous to my giving the bill of sale, and a formal bill of sale was drawn up.
According to testimony in the above court case, sometime in 1891, with William H. Riker now running the business, he leased the adjacent store on the corner of 22nd Street (355 Sixth Avenue) and altered the two properties into “one large gigantic drug store” where he added a soda fountain. An announcement to that effect appeared in the April 24, 1891 edition of the “Evening World.”
The new soda fountain aside, the business was almost certainly mismanaged by the son and, in 1892, he sold it to a syndicate of four individuals, one of which was an employee. The sale was documented in the “Findings of Fact” associated with the above court case.
That on said 12th day of February, 1892, said William H. Riker…made and executed a bill of sale of his said business so carried out at No.s 353 and 355 Sixth Avenue, and at 588 Washington Street, and of his stock and fixtures and other assets, and transferred it to Edward D. Cahoon, at the time, and for some years prior thereto, one of his clerks, and to Joseph H. Marshall, William C. Bolton and Daniel K. Runyon…
The “Findings of Fact” went on to say:
That on said 12th day of February, 1892, and for a long time prior thereto, the said William H. Riker was hopelessly and wholly insolvent and unable to pay his debts in full.
On a side note: In lieu of paying off his creditors with proceeds from the sale, William H. Riker signed the money over to his father who paid down mortgage debt he held on the Sixth Avenue property. This resulted in several court cases, including the one referenced above.
All that aside, it’s clear that the Riker name continued to hold value within the drug community because the new syndicate retained it, subsequently incorporating the business as the “W. B. Riker & Son, Co;” simply adding “Co.” to the former name. The incorporation notice was published in the March 23, 1892 edition of a publication called the “Chemist & Druggist.”
In 1897 the company moved their Sixth Avenue store approximately one block north to the corner of 23rd street where it was then listed with an address of 373 Sixth Avenue. The move was reported in the August 1, 1897 edition of the “Merck Report.”
Rikers drug store, which for half a century occupied the same site on Sixth Avenue below Twenty-second Street, has been removed to the reconstructed store at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street…
An early 20th century advertisement described the store like this:
Here five floors, devoted to the various departments of the Drug Store business, have probably accomodated more customers than have ever been served in a similar drug store space elsewhere in the same length of time.
In June, 1904 the company opened a second drug store in Manhattan, this one at Broadway and Ninth Street. Around the same time they also added five stores across the East River in Brooklyn when they consolidated their operation with that of the Bolton Drug Company. The consolidation was reported in the June 7th edition of Brooklyn’s “Times Union.”
The Riker drug stores of Manhattan and the Bolton drug stores of Brooklyn, have been consolidated. The change took place on Monday and was effected at a meeting of the Bolton Drug Company.
The combination made yesterday is enterprising and progressive, and a chain of fine establishments in Brooklyn will be one of the results. The main store of the Bolton Company is at 450-454 Fulton Street, and there are four other stores, each of which will be thoroughly remodeled and then operated along the lines of the Riker stores.
As promised, on November 12, 1904 the first remodeled Bolton store reopened under the management of the Riker Company. The public invitation appeared in the November 10th and 11th editions of several Brooklyn newspapers. It read in part:
We extend a cordial invitation to Brooklyn people – and to our Manhattan friends also – to visit the old Bolton Drug Store at 456 Fulton Street next Saturday, when it will be opened under the new Riker management.
The remodeled store will be beautifully decorated with flowers, an excellent orchestra will be in attendance all day, and there will be gifts worth coming from the ends of the town after. This opening is the first of several that are to take place in Brooklyn in the near future. The Bolton Drug Stores are now under the management of the Riker Drug Company, and are being remodeled and rearranged as rapidly as possible to conform to the Riker standards.
Don’t fail to call in at 456 Fulton Street on Saturday.
Beginning in 1907 the company also opened several additional stores in Manhattan: The locations and opening dates were summarized in a November 17, 1908 advertisement published in New York’s ” Evening World.” They were: 159 West 14th Street (May, 1907), 13 West 34th Street (Nov. 1907), 2 West 14th Street (Sept. 1908) and 6th Avenue and 42nd Street (Nov. 1908)
The lease of their 34th Street location set a record for rental prices on Manhattan’s 34th Street at the time. According to a May 8, 1907 story in the “New York Sun:”
RECORD LEASE NEAR WALDORF
RIKER COMPANY TO PAY $903,000 FOR WEST 34TH STREET STORE
Frank M. Winner, of the office of Alvan W. Perry, has leased for Bonwit Teller & Co. the first floor and basement of the building being erected at Nos. 13 and 15 West 34th St. to the William B. Riker & Son Company for a term of 21 years, beginning September 1, at a rental of $43,000. a year.
The building, which has been designed as a six story building for Bonwit, Teller & Co., will be altered to an eight story loft and office building, and the store, which is 40 feet in width by 125 feet in depth, is to have, in addition to this floor space, a mezzanine gallery throughout. The interior of the store is now in the hands of an architect, whose plans contemplate one of the largest and finest drug stores in the United States. The floors will be of mosaic, and the soda fountain, which will be the largest in the city, will cost $20,000 being finished in imported onyx.
Bonwit, Teller & Co. intended this building for their own use, but owing to the rapid increase in 34th Street values and the large rental offered by the Riker company they determined to turn the building into an investment.
This lease marks a still higher record price for stores in 34th St., being at the rate of about $1,100 a front foot, while the store at No. 1 West 34th St. recently rented by the same real estate office to the Mirror Candy Company, was at a rental of $1,000 a front foot.
An advertisement announcing the opening of the 34th Street store appeared in the November 1, 1907 edition of the “New York Times.” It serves to make the point that the Riker business offered much more than just drug prescriptions and cosmetics.
Among the features that make the new Riker Store the most complete and finest drug store ever operated are: a Soda Fountain that will be the handsomest and costliest in America; a complete Stationery and Engraving Dept. unsurpassed anywhere; an extensive Photo Supplies Dept., including expert developing and printing; a Hair Goods Dept. that will carry the most complete and finest line of human hair goods; a Cigar Dept. where all the best known brands will be sold at the lowest prices; a Candy Dept. where the finest confections will be sold at Riker prices; a Sub-Station of the Post Office, Telephone Books, and a Ladies Writing Room for the convenience of lady customers. Another feature will be the department of wines and liquors for home and medicinal purposes. The line of Toilet Goods will be unexcelled; the Prescription and Drug Dept. will be up to the high Riker standard; and a full line of rubber goods will be carried.
Integral to most, if not all of their stores, was the soda fountain. In 1906 a new fountain, called the “Innovation,” was constructed at their 23rd Street location, a description of which appeared in the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.” If anything, its clear that the fountain was certainly ornate!
This magnificent apparatus will cost $20,000. The dispensing counter will be 36 feet long, built of Pavonazzo or Rose Sienna Marble, trimmed with onyx, and with onyx pilasters having solid bronze bases and bronze capitals.The slabs of both the dispensing counter and of the display section are to be of Mexican onyx from the quarries of the New Pedrara Onyx Company, from which come large blocks of the choicest onyx of wonderful coloring and perfect soundness.
The display, or wall section, with its large French plate beveled mirrors, its gleaming onyx, with electrical illumination revealing the rich colors of the art glass and of the fine paintings above the mirrors, will be indeed a marvel of beauty. The refrigerator at the base of the wall section is to be of white Italian and Pavonazzo marble, relieved by onyx trimmings, and with silver-plated door frames enclosing panels of the French plate glass. The refrigerator is thoroughly insulated and equipped for cooling and storage purposes.
The mechanism of the fountain – its working parts – of draft tubes, coolers, syrup jars, work boards, etc., embody all that is latest and best in the soda fountain construction of the American Soda Fountain Company.
This photograph of the soda fountain appeared in a 1907 advertisement for the American Soda Fountain Company.
In 1907, at about the same time that the Riker Company was opening their new soda fountain, they acquired the Boston, Massachusetts business of Charles P. Jaynes & Company. The March 18th edition of the “Boston Evening Transcript” covered the announcement.
General Manager A. H. Cosden announces that the Riker Drug Company of New York has bought out the great Boston business of Charles P. Jaynes & Company, including all interests, assets, and retail drug stores. The corporate name of the new concern, it is announced, will be William B. Riker & Son Company.
The present retail business of the two companies is said to be in the neighborhood of $3,000,000 a year.
After the acquisition, the Riker company continued to open new stores in both New York and Boston. This advertisement announcing the opening of a new Brooklyn store appeared in the December 19, 1908 edition of the “Brooklyn Chat.”
In Boston, Riker advertisements continued to employ the locally familiar “Jaynes” name as evidenced by this May 18, 1909 “Boston Globe” advertisement that announced the opening of a new “Riker-Jaynes” drug store on Tremont Street. Not surprisingly, the new store included an onyx soda fountain.
The above advertisement put the mid-1909 Riker store count at 21; eight in Boston, seven in Manhattan and six in Brooklyn.
In 1910, the Riker business merged with a competing drug store chain called Hegeman & Co. The new company, called the “Riker-Hegeman Company” officially put an end to the “W. B. Riker & Son Company” name.
The merger announcement was included in the September, 1910 edition of the “Druggist Circular.”
The oft discussed and several times reported merger of the interests of Hegeman & Co. and the W. B. Riker & Son Company, both of this city, and the largest operators of chains of retail drug stores in the country, was consummated early in August. The new company formed by the union is known as the Riker-Hegeman Company. It is incorporated in this State with a capital of $15,000,000…
Competition between the two chains was most often suggested as the reason for the amalgamation. By then, according to an August 5th story in Patterson New Jersey’s “Morning Call,” the Riker chain included 25 stores in the Greater New York area alone, with 23 in Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as individual stores in the surrounding locales of Newark, New Jersey and Mt. Vernon, New York (Westchester County). At the same time, Hegeman operated 20 stores in the same area, many in close proximity to Riker stores.
This advertisement touting the drug chain appeared in the April 9, 1912 edition of the “Evening World.”
In 1916, the Riker-Hegeman stores were acquired by a newly formed company called the Liggett Company which in turn was owned by the United Drug Company. A cooperative controlled by over 7,000 retail druggists, the United Drug Company was the manufacturer of the “Rexall” product line.
The official announcement was published in the March 1916 edition of the “Pharmaceutical Era.”
In the offices of the United Drug Company in Boston on Saturday February 12th, was completed the formation of the new L. K. Liggett Company, operating the Riker-Hegeman, Riker-Jaynes, and the Liggett drug stores in the United States and Canada.
The new Liggett Company will operate stores in New York, Boston, and all other leading cities from Bangor, Me., to Detroit, Mich.
The Riker-Hegeman and Riker-Jaynes stores number 107 and the Liggett stores 45; the total of 152 stores making it the largest retail drug association in America today.
The Liggett Company is owned by the United Drug Company of Boston, at the head of which is Mr. Louis K. Liggett, the newly elected president of the Boston Chamber of Commerce.
The United Drug Company in turn is owned and controlled by 7,000 retail druggists throughout the United States and Canada, now operating stores as the “Rexall Stores.”
The 53 stores in Greater New York and all others bearing the Riker-Hegeman name will be known as the LIGGETTS-RIKER-HEGEMAN DRUG STORES. The 20 stores in Boston bearing the Riker-Jaynes name will be called LIGGETT’S-RIKER-JAYNES DRUG STORES. The Liggett stores in cities in which no Riker stores are present will continue under the original name.
The Pharmaceutical Era story went on to say:
The Riker & Hegeman and the Riker-Jaynes stores will sell Rexall goods whenever this can be done without infringing on the right of an established Rexall store. All the Riker stores of New York and Boston will of course, carry Rexall goods. There are, however, some towns where Riker stores have been established in competition with existing Rexall stores. In such cases the Riker store would not carry the Rexall remedies.
Early on Liggett’s continued to use the Riker-Hegeman name as evidenced by this July 7, 1916 “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” advertisement. Also note that the soda fountain business was still alive and well!
By the early 1920’s any mention of Riker-Hegeman in Liggett’s advertisements was a simple reminder that some of their locations were “former Riker-Hegeman stores.”
Not long after, the Riker-Hegeman name disappeared completely from their drug store ads.
The company grew under Liggett as evidenced by this assessment that appeared 15 years later in a June 17, 1937 “Pittsburgh Sun” story. By then the number of Liggett owned stores had grown from 152 to 450 and the Rexall retailers from 7,000 to 10,000.
From a small beginning the Liggett Drug Company, has grown into one of the largest institutions of its kind. It is an integral part of the United Drug Company of Boston, which distributes merchandise of its own manufacture to 10,000 Rexall agents and to 450 Liggett drug stores in practically every state in the union.
The great business is headed by Louis K. Liggett, founder of the original Liggett Company and now president of the United Drug Company.The 450 Liggett stores are under the executive direction of George M. Gales, who is president of the Liggett Drug Company. It is estimated that approximately 150,000,000 people are served annually by the 450 Liggett stores.
In 1941, a man named Justin Dart took control of the organization. Prior to that Dart had been general manager of the Chicago-based Walgreen drug chain. A story in the March 19, 1977 edition of the Muscatine (Iowa) Journal picks up the story from there.
In 1941, Justin Dart…left Chicago and Walgreen for Boston and United Drug, where he took command of what was then the largest retail drug chain in the country.
Dart brought order and direction to United Drug, which was a losely organized holding company that included manufacturing, franchising and retailing through wholly owned stores operating under various names – Rexall, Liggett, Owl and Sontag were some of them.
Dart centralized operations around the Rexall name. He made Rexall a national advertiser. Then, in 1945, he moved himself – and the company’s headquarters – to Los Angeles. The corporate name was changed to Rexall Drug in 1947. Dart once ensconced in Los Angeles, proceeded to build an entirely different company.
Wheeling and dealing at a furious pace, he bought and sold companies, acquired others, disposed of others, merged others. He entered chemicals, plastics, cosmetics, glass containers and resort development.
It appears that the last vestige of the “Riker” name was one of the casualties of Dart’s “wheeling and dealing” when, in 1969, the company, now referred to as Dart Industries, sold their ethical drug division called Riker Laboratories to the 3M Company. The sale was reported in the July 9th edition of the “Philadelphia Inquirer.”
Dart Industries and Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. officials have agreed in principle to purchase by Minnesota Mining of Riker Laboratories, Ethical Drug Division of Dart Industries, for 1,500,000 common shares of Minnesota Mining. The transaction has a value of slightly over $156 million…
Dart said the proposed sale of Riker would not materially affect 1969 earnings of Dart Industries and should contribute importantly to the company’s capital resources.
The 1977 “Muscatine Journal” feature went on to chronicle the last chapter of the story.
Rexall was dropped as a corporate name in 1969, replaced by Dart Industries
In 1972, 50 company owned Liggett drug stores were sold.
In 1973, 12 company owned Drug King stores in California and Oregon were sold.
In 1976, all of Rexall’s Canadian operations were sold.
And in 1977, the last of the lot went. Rexall’s manufacturing facilities in St. Louis, its franchise drug division and its contract manufacturing operations were all sold. They had sales of $50 million last year.
Justin Dart heads a company that will do better than $1.5 billion of business this year, none of it under the Rexall name.
While the Riker name is long gone, signs of the company’s existence still remain in the form of several current Manhattan buildings that once housed Riker stores.
Unfortunately, the building that housed Riker’s original location at 353 Sixth Avenue (now 675 Avenue of the Americas) is not one of them. Construction of the building located there today, called the “Mattel Building,” began in 1900, so it’s possible that its planned construction facilitated Riker’s 1897 move up Sixth Avenue to 373 Sixth Avenue (now 711 Avenue of the Americas). Located at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, the building there now almost certainly dates back to Riker. This rendering of it appeared in an 1899 publication called “A Pictorial Description of Broadway,” found in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org
…and this description of it appeared in a 1907 advertisement:
Here five floors, devoted to the various departments of the Drug Store business, have probably accomodated more customers than have ever been served in a similar drug store space elsewhere in the same length of time.
This building located there today, sans a few architectural modifications at the roof level and a fire escape added on the 23rd Street side, certainly fits the bill.
It appears that at least two other Manhattan buildings that housed Riker stores remain to this day as well.
The building at 15 West 34th Street, expanded from six to eight stories by Bonwit Teller to accommodate the Riker store, was sometimes referred to in newspaper articles as the “Riker Building,” A sketch of the store front was included in this November 1, 1908 advertisement that announced its opening.
Below is a current view of the building courtesy of “Google Earth.” The only thing missing is the “Riker” sign above the store front.
Finally, here’s the September 18, 1908 advertisement announcing the opening of the store at 2 West 14th Street.
I’m pretty certain it was located somewhere in this row of stores that occupy the current building located on the south side of 14th Street just west of Fifth Avenue (possibly a combination of the 3rd and 4th store fronts from the corner).
The bottle I found is mouth blown and about three inches tall. The main body is two inches in diameter and it abruptly narrows to one inch near the lip. It’s embossing includes the name “W. B. Riker & Co.” as well as the original 353 Sixth Avenue address. This results in a very narrow date range for the bottle.
The presence of “Co.”in the embossed name dates it no earlier than 1892 when William H. Riker sold the business and the initial address of 353 Sixth Avenue dates it no later than their 1897 move to 23rd Street (373 Sixth Avenue).