Founded as an apothecary in 1838, C. O. Bigelow Chemists has thrived into the twenty-first century as an unlikely, but very popular, combination of neighborhood drugstore and high-end beauty emporium. Its aisles are crowded with long-time local customers waiting for their prescriptions to be filled at the pharmacy, as well as visiting aficionados of luxury toiletries, hard-to-find home fragrance lines, and unusual perfumes.
Through an agreement with Limited Brands, the Bigelow brand name is used on newly developed products sold at Limited Brands’ various stores (Henri Bendel, Bath & Body Works), and Limited Brands has opened several shops under the C.O. Bigelow name in other cities. This original location, however, is still independently owned by the same family that bought the company in 1939. It is a Greenwich Village landmark, and it has maintained its local color.
C. O. Bigelow’s fragrance department is arranged along the right-hand wall of the store, and it includes everything from cult favorites both old and new (Fracas, The Pink Room UK) to mainstream labels (selections from Christian Dior and Burberry) to local brands (such as Creative Universe by Beth Terry and Malin + Goetz). Some of the boxes and bottles are displayed in locked, glass-fronted cupboards, and you may have to ask for assistance, but fear not: the employees are helpful and good-natured. They can also show you the available cosmetics lines (NARS, T. LeClerc, and others) and the rows and rows of scented body products imported from locations around the world, including Marvis toothpaste, Valobra soaps, Kusco-Murphy hair products, and Chidoriya shower gels. Don’t forget to look at the interior of the store itself: it still retains some antique architectural details, such as its plaster-and-gilt ceiling moldings and the carved wooden shelving on the walls. You may even spot Allegra, the house cat, making her way past you.
Fragrance brands (in addition to those mentioned above): Acqua di Parma, Agent Provocateur, Antonia’s Flowers, Calypso, Carthusia, Chanel, Comme des Garçons, Comptoir Sud Pacifique, Costes, Crazylibellule and the Poppies, Geo. F. Trumper, Gucci, I Profumi di Firenze, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Mistral, No. 4711, Prada, Robert Piquet (Fracas), Roger & Gallet, Sage, Smiley, Susanne Lang, Tocca, Tous, Voluspa, Parfums 06130.
Not to be missed: The selection of children’s fragrances, including scents from Jacadi, Tartine et Chocolat, and Le Petit Prince, because it’s never too early to encourage a love of perfume in your youngest acquaintances.
Details: 414 6th Avenue (between 8th and 9th Streets), New York, NY, 10011; 212-473-7324; bigelowchemists.
Nearby: The beauty department of the natural grocery store Lifethyme (410 6th Avenue), a branch of Ricky’s NYC (466 6th Avenue), and Aedes de Venustas (9 Christopher Street).
— report and images filed by Jessica.
See also: Perfume Shopping in New York City