중앙데일리

Cures galore grace ‘Drugstore Street’

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul 37th in a series: Jongno 5-ga Drugstore street]

Mar 03,2009
On Drugstore Street, located in Jongno 5-ga, central Seoul, about 60 drugstores are thriving. By Oh Sang-min
You can expect throngs lining up to get into famous restaurants in the hip districts of Seoul or at downtown promotional giveaways of certain products - but huge crowds at a drugstore?

Such is the case for a certain drugstore in Jongno 5-ga, central Seoul.

“About 1,500 people on average visit our drugstore on a weekday, and the number goes up on weekends,” said Kim Ji-hoon, director of Boryung Drugs, which has been in business since 1957.

Kim Seung-ho, CEO of Boryung Drugs, named the drugstore after his hometown, Boryeong, in South Chungcheong Province, on the Yellow Sea coast in southwestern Korea.

Boryung Drugstore is the oldest of some 60 phamacies located on Jongno 5-ga’s “Drugstore Street.” It has about 40 employees, including a dozen pharmacists.

It’s pretty much the same story for other drugstores on the street, where pharmacists field thousands of customer inquires each day.

Most of the customers come from different parts of Seoul and even cities outside Seoul.

“For me, Jongno 5-ga is synonymous with medicine, so I stop by to buy some health supplements for my parents when I visit Seoul,” said Jung Young-sun, a 36-year-old housewife who lives in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, located southeast of Seoul.

Kim Kwang-mo, in his mid-60s, came from Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi to buy a bottle of omega?3 fatty acids and other over-the-counter drugs.

“These drugstores offer more of a variety of goods than drugstores in your neighborhood.

“It’s not that cheap when you buy one or two drugs but you can haggle over prices when you buy in bulk,” said Kim.

Indeed, drugstores in Jongno 5-ga offer a greater volume of drugs than neighborhood drugstores, which means customers have more choices in drugs or other health-related products.

“About 20,000 types of drugs are available here at Boryung Drugstore alone, while small drugstores deal with around 2,000 items,” said Kim, the CEO.

A woman in her early 30s who visited the street to buy pregnancy test strips in bulk said she found the cheapest one starts at 2,500 won ($1.70) on Drugstore Street.

Her neighborhood drugstores sell the test strips for 4,000 or 5,000 won.

Located in the middle of Seoul, Jongno 5-ga Drugstore Street started to take shape in the late 1950s, according to the official Web page of the Jongno District Office.

“Jongno 5-ga is sandwiched between big traditional markets such as Gwangjang Market. We assume that Drugstore Street naturally formed due to a huge population around the area,” said Lee Keum-yong, an official of the Jongno District Office.

However, old hands in Jongno 5-ga have a different story on the history of Drugstore Street.

“Drug wholesalers settled here in the late 50s, so people who ran small drugstores used to come here and buy drugs.

“Other drugstores then opened one after another,” said Park Dae-shik, 76, who sells odds and ends on the street.

Kim of Boryung Drugstore agreed with Park.

“Small retailers used to come here on bicycle and bought needed drugs because the distribution system was very poor back then.”

Pharmacists counsel customers on medications at Boryung Drugstore, which is the oldest pharmacy among the 60 or so on Jongno 5-ga’s Drugstore Street. By Oh Sang-min
When Drugstore Street was in its heyday during the late ’80s and early ’90s, up to 80 drugstores thrived there. In those days a popular drugstore such as Boryung had up to 5,000 customers a day.

But Drugstore Street has seen decreasing consumers as more pharmacies located in residential areas grew larger.

After weathering the drug market’s ups and downs over the past 50 years, some pharmacies have started to receive orders via their Web sites.

Others have employees who can speak English or Chinese to greet foreign visitors in order to serve growing expatriate populations.

Oldtimers also say that people seek different drugs now compared to 30 years ago.

In the ’70s and ’80s, most sought drugs to help digestion, but more people now purchase vitamins and other health supplements, said pharmacists.

Unlike Seoul’s well-known streets and markets that require cash, drugstores at Jongno 5-ga accept credit cards.

But as is the case with other famous streets and traditional markets, customers can get bigger discounts when they purchase in bulk and pay cash.

One of Drugstore Street’s problems is its short supply of parking spaces. Customers typically need to use public transportation to get there.

But those in search of shopping tips need not search hard.

“Don’t believe the price tags,” said Noh Jung-hee, a 73-year-old regular of Drugstore Street.

“Almost every drugstore offers about a 10 percent discount from the original prices. I think it’s their sales strategy,”

Most drugstores open at 7 a.m. and operate until 9 p.m.

Depending on the drugstore, some close on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, and others close on the first and the third Sundays.

The stores say they stagger their closing times for their customers’ convenience.

From Jongno 5-ga Station via exits 13 or 14, Drugstore Street is immediately recognizable due to the ubiquitous presence of pharmacies along the two streets between Jongno 5-ga and Jongno 6-ga.

On Drugstore Street, Oriental medicine clinics and retailers specializing in ginseng and other traditional remedies are in large supply, providing consumers with one-stop shopping if they are looking for conventional medicines, Oriental medicines and some medical-related equipment such as electronic massagers.


By Sung So-young Staff Reporter [so@joongang.co.kr]





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