Kathleen O’Connell has become an institution at Artis Drugs, one of the few small, mom and pop, neighborhood pharmacies left in our area. Nestled behind the counter as you enter the store, Kathy is the first to greet you when you walk in and the last to say goodbye when you leave. Known for her strong work ethic and deep compassion for others, she is the epitome of outstanding customer service, in addition to being everyone’s confidante, psychologist, and friend. And she does know where any item in the store can be found at any given time (I know, I tested her.).

Janet Somma, the wife of Artis owner Mike Somma, perhaps said it best, “everyone loves Kathy! Everyone who comes into the store all know her. She’s very helpful and friendly, not pushy. And that’s the difference, you know, people come in and she’s very helpful to them and friendly, but she doesn’t push anything on people. She’s there to help them, if they need help.”
Kathy O’Connell is 59 years-old, lives in Ridgewood, has two children and three grandchildren. She graduated from Saint Brigid’s Roman Catholic School, and has been a counterperson all her life, first at a check cashing place in Ridgewood, then at Flash Video, then West Coast Video, which is now Phillie’s, then Letter’s R’ Us, then the candy store across 80th Street from where she is currently employed as a cashier and counter person at Artis Drugs in Middle Village.

This interview was conducted at Andrew’s Pizzeria , and once again, I would like to thank Andrew for letting me use his pizzeria for this interview.

Kathy, how long have you been working at Artis Drugs?
Artis Drugs has been in business for 35 years and I’ve had the pleasure of working there for 15 of those 35 years.

What is key to your outstanding customer service?
You have to love your job. You have to have a good ear and listen to what customers have to say, and you have to treat people with respect. Most people don’t get treated with respect these days. It’s sad. Customers like to be treated with respect. Without customers you have no business, no pay check… you have nothing.

How do you handle a rude customer.
With patience. You have to consider that they may be having a bad day. Most of the people who come in are not rude. If you greet a customer with a smile and kindness you’re bound to have very few rude customers.

What is the strangest question you have been asked by a customer?
There’s a lot of personal stuff that I really won’t mention.

Has Walgreens Pharmacy taken any business away from Artis since they opened across the street?
No. We have very loyal customers.

What makes them so loyal, is Artis different from other pharmacies?
At Artis Drugs we’re attentive to our customer’s needs. We have been servicing the neighborhood for decades, so we understand their needs. Also, my co-workers and I offer our customers personal attention that comes from the heart.

In one word, describe your coworkers?

What is the one word you think your co-workers might describe you?
Crazy… maybe.

What is the one issue affecting our community that you would like our local elected officials to address?
I’ve been in this community for over 25 years. I’ve seen people engaged, get married, have children. I’ve been invited to barbecues and block parties, and the one thing I’ve learned in life is to never talk about politics or religion. You lose friends that way.

Then what would you change in the world if you had the power to do so?
I would end starvation. There are so many people in this country that need food. I give to the New York Rescue Mission every year so people will have a good Thanksgiving dinner. I would like to see more people helped in this situation.

What matters most to you in your life?
My family. My children and grandchildren and the quality of life.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work.
I love movies. My favorite movie of all time is Madame X with Lana Turner. I also enjoy watching cartoons with my granddaughter, Sara, who is five years-old.

Who is the one person in the world you would like to meet?
Rod Stewart.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what is the one thing you would you like to have with you?
Lots of yarn and needles, of course. My mother taught me to crochet. I love it. It relaxes me. I would not want any phones, TVs, or radios. Just solitude.

What would we be surprised to know about you?
How much I love photography. Ansel Adams is my favorite photographer. His pictures are breathtaking.

What are you most proud of about yourself?
That I can take life as it comes and pretty much handle most anything that comes my way

Thank you, Kathy for spending a few minutes with us.