Susan Merenstein may not have discovered the Fountain of Youth, but — to borrow a phrase from the film “When Harry Met Sally” — I’ll have what she’s having.
At 58, Merenstein, a compounding pharmacist and the owner of Murray Avenue Apothecary, has a flawless complexion, a vivacious personality and, most definitely, a spring in her step.
Her youthful aura can be attributed, at least in part, to her own line of skincare products, Lab Naturals, which she developed about 12 years ago and sells in the boutique pharmacy she has operated in Squirrel Hill for the last decade.
Her dog, a mutt called Ralph, is another testament to the wondrous concoctions coming out of Murray Avenue Apothecary. He is 17 years old, and though a bit tired, still kicking, which Merenstein says is a result of the pet products that she compounds.
“He’s a great testimonial,” she said. “He’s been taking something that I call Ralph’s Inflammation and Immunity Formula that I designed.”
Merenstein has pharmacy in her genes. Her late father was a pharmacist in Washington, D.C., where she grew up, and he was a role model for her in a myriad of ways.
“He’s in my brain all the time,” she said. “I model my business practices after him. Fairness, right? Quality. Communication. And so I sleep really well at night.”
Merenstein, who earned her degree in pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh in 1981, worked for many years as a traditional behind-the-counter pharmacist, until she grew weary of counting and cutting pills, yearning to make a bigger impact in people’s lives.
“I literally left the prescription counter 17 years ago, and that’s when I went into the compounding lab at a former pharmacy. So, I redefined myself.”
As a compounding pharmacist, Merenstein — in consultation with her clients’ physicians — creates individualized treatments to more specifically address each person’s particular needs. Many of her clients come to her to help correct hormone imbalances, that, she says, doctors often do not have the time to adequately address.
“[My practice] started off with hormones and hormone consultation,” she said. “We get referrals from doctors for patients who need help. It’s very hard for doctors to have the time any more. It’s really, really hard. The docs simply do not have time to sit there and go through an hour of, ‘When did your symptoms start? How was your period when you first started menstruating?’”
Human hormones, she said, can be duplicated in the lab, obviating the need for synthetic hormones.
“We can replete our depleted hormones with bioidentical or human identical hormones,” according to Merenstein, and those hormones can help treat symptoms of menopause, as well as provide relief for those suffering from menstrual symptoms.
Cathy Mion, a longtime client of Merenstein’s, has relied for 10 years on the holistic pharmacist for treatment for menopausal symptoms. Merenstein, Mion said, continues to provide “education, information, a listening ear and compassion. I treasure her knowledge base.”
Merenstein also focuses on wellness at her pharmacy.
“That’s why we call ourselves a ‘compounding pharmacy boutique,’” Merenstein said. “The skincare is huge. Skincare is so important to get right because there are so many toxic ingredients in skincare.”
In addition to hormone consultation, skincare and pet treatments, Murray Avenue Apothecary also offers a host of other services, including remedies for hair loss.
“We do a lot of different things,” Merenstein said. “Over the years, we always try to define ourselves. Me, being in my 37th year of practice, I feel like I’m at the best point I can be. I’m really at a peak. I mean I just got recognized by the City of Pittsburgh and received a proclamation in June. It just feels so good to be recognized.”
Murray Avenue Apothecary is “unique,” according to Merenstein.
“I don’t think there is anyone out there like me,” she said. “I know all my competitors, and there is no one doing what I’m doing. Most compounding pharmacies are going to do hormones and stuff. They are going to do hormones and make pain balms. But I’ve been doing this for the past 17 years, and I feel like it’s more the patient-centered practice that’s different here.”
Merenstein places a huge emphasis on personalized client consultations. “I tell people to make an appointment to sit down face to face,” she said.
Peggy Dayton, another longtime client of Merenstein’s, originally sought her help for menopausal symptoms. In addition to compounding hormones for Dayton, Merenstein also recommended she take vitamin C and D supplements. The cocktail seems to be working.
“I just went to L.A. Fitness, and the guy there thought I was 45, and I’m 61,” Dayton said. “People don’t believe how old I am. I have great hair, great nails, great teeth. If it wasn’t for Susan … ”
“Susan is one of the most intelligent people I know,” Dayton continued. “She is always studying and reading up on things.”
Recently, Dayton ran into an old boyfriend who asked her if she had found the Fountain of Youth. “I told him it’s because I take a lot of vitamins and supplements,” she said. “Obviously, he doesn’t take them, because he is short and fat and bald.”
A few doors down from Murray Avenue Apothecary is 20-20 Opticians, the business run by Merenstein’s husband, Barry, and her brother-in-law, Evan Merenstein. But that is only one reason why Merenstein loves going to work.
“I love coming to work every day,” she said. “Every time I walk in the door to the pharmacy I am hit once again with that feeling of health and brightness and hope. People will often say when they come in here they want to breathe, like a sigh, like they’ve found a place of healing.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.