I usually save any “Throwback Thursday” posts for the actual date, Thursday. But even though it’s Tuesday, I don’t want to wait until Thursday, even though the subject in question is, sadly, not going anywhere. Back in October, I talked up in this post Mallatt’s Pharmacy, which has… er, rather, had two locations here in Madison, the older west side location on Monroe Street and a more generally recent east side location on Williamson Street. Mallatt’s had a couple of locations outside the Madison city limits, but they were no national chain, that’s for sure. Since it was established in 1926, Mallatt’s had been a nice, convenient corner pharmacy, one who’s much more intimate than those national chains (like, say, Walgreens) whose stores are sterile, antiseptic clones of each other.
The name of the store was originally “Mallatt’s Pharmacy” as it was known for its pharmacy and prescription services. But it was also where you could buy greeting cards, snacks, candy, or wine. And since the 1960s, Mallatt’s was better known in Madison forbeing a year-round source of costumes (for rental or purchase), wigs, hats, makeup, fake eyelashes, freaky sunglasses, and stage props (I bet Mallatt’s was a paradise for those in Madison’s theater community). Yeah, every day of the year felt like Halloween at Mallatt’s.
But, as I stated in that previous post, “times change and competition increases.” That, and a decrease in reimbursement from insurance companies on prescriptions, led to Mallatt’s decision last fall to close its two locations outside Madison and discontinue its pharmacy services completely (prescription records were transferred to the competition).
From that point forward, the remaining brick-and-mortar Mallatt’s locations sold costumes and convenience items exclusively. And this crossdresser felt content in the fact that sweet lil’ ol’ Mallatt’s would still be around, even though I didn’t always have the opportunity to swing by Monroe Street or Willy Street and browse through the wig and makeup sections and make a purchase. Even if a trip to Mallatt’s resulted in buying nothing more than a wig cap and a candy bar, it felt good knowing I was shopping at The Little Man’s store (I use the term “Little Man” in small-store-versus-big-corporate terms, of course).
But then this morning, I saw a photo, one of Mallatt’s Monroe Street location, posted by someone Male Mode Me follows on Instagram. The caption he included says it all — and said something else I had not learned of yet:
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES Mallatt's Pharmacy on Monroe Street has been closed for a few weeks now, along with its other namesakes. The exterior still carries reminders of the past — the superhero panels promoting their costume rentals out front that replaced a large plate glass window broken by vandals and too expensive to replace. (That was probably an omen, as things turned out); the big mural of the pumpkin that changed its costumes with the seasons and the holidays; and the striking masked face on the right. But its soul has left the building. No more local pharmacy (which stocked the special sizes of insulin dispensers for pets prescribed by nearby Lakeview Vets). No more little neighborhood postal station. No more handmade greeting cards, no more wine tastings, and of course, no more on-site costume rentals. They will be missed. #pharmacy #drugstore #mallattspharmacy #retail #bricksandmortar #monroestreet #neighborhood #MadisonWI
“Closed for a few weeks now”?! Seeing that in his caption made my heart sink. Which led me to look up the news about Mallatt’s status for the sake of verification. And sure enough:
Headline from the Wisconsin State Journal:
“FINAL DAYS FOR MALLATT’S.”
“Closing signals ‘end of an era.'”
Which made my heart sink even further. Back in February, the owner of Mallatt’s decided to close both existing stores, citing in part the decrease in business and lack of foot traffic left in the wake of the pharmacy sides’ discontinuation. The Willy Street location of Mallatt’s closed first (the article indicates a hair salon will be in that space soon), with remaining inventory and manpower moved to the Monroe Street location, which remained open for a few more weeks (Mallatt’s owner has the building for sale).
And with that, Mallatt’s the friendly corner pharmacy and costume shop is no more. *sigh*
At least Mallatt’s hasn’t vanished completely. Oh, it still exists somewhat. For one, Mallatt’s still has a homecare pharmacy service (two locations, one each in Madison and Milwaukee) that offers pharmacy services to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and agencies that serve the disabled. Apparently, that side of the business has been booming, offering something the chain stores don’t specialize in. And there’s Mallatts.com, which their famous costume, makeup, and wig sales have migrated to. I’m perusing through the wig section of the Mallatt’s site right now, and oh boy, it feels like a wonderland.
While having online access to the costume wears Mallatt’s offers is all well and good, seeing them close up is heartbreaking. Having to go to the corporate, antiseptic stores of Walgreens or CVS can be soul crushing, for the customer as well as the underpaid, overstretched staff. Having to wait until fall to go to one of those seasonal Halloween costume shops that pop up in some store space another retailer left behind long ago isn’t fun either. Neither is going to Party City, which at the moment seems to be the only year-round option when it comes to finding a cheap costume or an even cheaper wig and not having to shop online. But if you actually like walking through aisle after of aisle of party supplies and having to listen to their PA system play flimsy facsimiles of popular songs (original songs not by the original artists!) just to get to a small out-of-season costume/wig section… well, I guess Party City is for you. (Side note: The wigs at Party City and those seasonal Halloween pop-ups can’t hold a candle to the higher quality costume wigs Mallatt’s offered.)
Whether they sold prescriptions or costumes, knickknacks or makeup, the vanishing of another friendly mom-and-pop-style operation that was just around the corner or well worth the drive (be it a few blocks or several miles) is truly sad to see. So if you know of a brick-and-mortar store such as Mallatt’s, whatever they may specialize in — and if they’re still around — please consider stopping in and patronizing them. Sure, theirs is not the big box store where you can find everything. But they’re also not the big box store when it comes to charm, character, and pride in service. And you’ll certainly be making The Little Man’s day, perhaps more so than you’ll ever know.