For Ian Ginsberg, family is everything — whether both business or pleasure.
The third generation owner and president of C.O. Bigelow Apothecary, whose son Alec is the company’s chief operating officer, Ginsberg also inherited a passion for music that he has passed on.
“I come from a musical family,” said Ginsberg, himself an avid drummer who also dabbles in guitar and vocals. “My mom was a concert pianist, my father was a bandleader. So, I was always in a musical household.”
The father of three has passed along his love. Alec Ginsberg plays guitar and sings in the family’s band, while his daughter, Wendy, plays guitar and ukelele and his other son, Reed, is a drummer. “They were all in bands in college, so we have a family band,” said Ginsberg, “but my wife doesn’t play anything. Our family group chat is named ‘The Band and Mom.’”
His family life — and home — literally reflect the family’s musicality. Ginsberg keeps guitars in almost every room, in addition to a dedicated room for the family band to practice and play in. “I have a whole studio set up at my house,” he said. “This way, it’s easy for us to just go out and play. At family gatherings, we all run downstairs and pick up our instruments.”
The Brecker Brothers and Steely Dan — the Aja album specifically — influenced Ginsberg the most during his upbringing, and they still feature heavily in his rotation today. On a more contemporary note, he’s a fan of John Mayer and Maggie Rogers.
“I listen to a lot of ’70s rock, from the Grateful Dead to Jefferson Airplane, and stuff I grew up on, like the Rolling Stones,” he said.
“I admire musical talent. People like John Mayer didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I want to be a rock star and make lots of money,’” he continued. “It’s about taking a creative part of them and expressing themselves, and if they made a living out of it, that would be great.”
Ginsberg himself toyed with the idea of playing drums professionally, having played weddings and a variety of gigs at events and clubs during his time in pharmacy school at Long Island University. “My father said to me, ‘Why don’t you go to pharmacy school, you’ll still get a pharmacy license and you can play while you’re in school. When you’re starving later on, you can just become a pharmacist.’”
The two career paths aren’t dissimilar, he said. “When I got out of school in 1985, there wasn’t a job for me at Bigelow’s and I wanted to play. I wanted to be a musician, and I had to figure out a way to make this place work for me. That was the tipping point — how can I entertain people in a retail environment? How can I make it a place where people want to go? Coming in has to be a want, not a need.”
Over the years, he’s been able to translate that ethos to the business. “I take the same approach with Bigelow — I have an audience, I want to tell stories and it’s just a different way of entertaining people,” Ginsberg said. “Early on, and still today, Bigelow is a stage where I can tell stories through products, create things that I love, and we say that Bigelow is a collection of our favorite things.”
He credits that mix for the retailer’s success, whose clientele range from Eleanor Roosevelt nearly a century ago to today’s industry icons. “We take care of a who’s who. What excites me is seeing people likes Gilles Bensimon, Calvin Klein or Marc Jacobs — an hour ago, we had Kate Moss. It’s generally people who don’t run their own errands,” he said. “But the one errand they do run, they come to Bigelow’s.”