Founded in June 1924, Balboa Pharmacy is set to celebrate its centennial

Manager Kim Denger, Adel Saleh, Brad Moses, Sandra Stecklein, pharmacist Suzanne Light, Nina Morlan and Jeff Ford.
Store manager Kim Denger, Adel Saleh, Brad Moses, Sandra Stecklein, Pharmacist Suzanne Light, Nina Morlan, and owner Jeff Ford, from left, make up the team and staff at Balboa Pharmacy on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Not many things on the Balboa Peninsula have stayed the same over the past century.

Businesses have come and gone over the years. What is now known as the Balboa Pavilion used to be a place to go bowling and, prior to that, a place to dance. Streets in the earliest days were largely accessible to people on foot.

But one establishment has become a community fixture: Balboa Pharmacy is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

“It’s gone through quite a bit,” said Kim Denger, who manages the retail store at the pharmacy. “There was a time early on when there used to be soda fountains, and they served some food at the counter along the Main Street windows. The rail tracks used to run right through the village on a boulevard ... and over the decades, we’ve experienced the technology age. The pharmacy needed to adjust to the [advance of the] computer in the 1990s and, in 2021, we went from the old-timey cash register to a [point-of-sales] system, which is kind of exciting.”

An undated shot taken prior to the establishment of the Balboa Pharmacy.
(Courtesy of the Sherman Library Photograph Collection)

According to “A History of Newport Beach,” compiled by Henry Lancey Sherman and published by the city in 1931, Walter Eastlack established Balboa Pharmacy at 716 E. Balboa Blvd. in June 1924.

According to the book, Eastlack’s lease for the first pharmacy he operated would run for another year, and in 1924, there were at least two drugstores in Balboa. Eastlack would later discontinue his first location, leaving only the second in operation. Balboa Pharmacy was sold in 1928 to Mickey Walker and Alfonse Hamann.

Walker and Hamann would later establish the Balboa Inn on the corner of Main Street and set up a second pharmacy called the Breakers Pharmacy, which is no longer in existence.


In 2007, Mike Martin was celebrating 25 years of his ownership of Balboa Pharmacy. A former employee of the local drugstore before he bought a similar business in the late 1970s, Martin stepped back into the Balboa operation when a new owner was being sought in 1982.

A photo of the Balboa Peninsula's Main Street. To the left, the Balboa Pharmacy is pictured. The date is unclear.
(Courtesy of the Sherman Library Photograph Collection)

Denger said she was brought into the fold about 12 years ago and has been collaborating with Martin on compiling the drugstore’s history. According to Denger, Martin renovated its iconic neon sign in 2007, though a storm later took it out, necessitating a replacement.

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020 just as the venerable drugstore changed hands from Martin to the Ford family. Like many businesses during that rocky period of mandated face masks and business closures, Balboa Pharmacy faced an uncertain future.

“I, for one, wasn’t sure if it was going to make it,” said Denger.

But it did, and the new owners not only updated the store’s technology but brought on a new pharmacist, Susanne Light, who Denger believes has substantially grown the pharmacy’s customer base. Denger said they serve tourists as well as locals, some of whom have come to the pharmacy for as long as 60 years.

Store manager Kim Denger shows one of the hats that will be given to customers.
Store manager Kim Denger shows one of the hats that will be given to customers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balboa Pharmacy.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Denger considers the summer season her favorite time of year at the store.

“It’s hard to describe our customers. They are from all over the world. They are families, travelers, kids and the residents that live all around us have their essential needs that we try to meet every day,” Denger said. “The really fun part about the place is we’re at the beach. People are on vacation so often or the kids on their summer breaks — so many of our customers during the summer are the little junior guards, and they are so much fun and we have so much respect for what they’re doing and [are thankful to] the Newport Beach lifeguards in general for making that possible.”

Denger noted the centennial celebration is not just about the drugstore’s history.

Longtime customer Vince Smith thanks pharmacist Suzanne Light.
Longtime customer Vince Smith thanks pharmacist Suzanne Light after picking up a prescription at the Balboa Pharmacy on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It’s about our customers who have been loyal and found a safe haven to get the medications they needed during the pandemic [and beyond],” she said.

Light, in a news release issued at the beginning of the month stated, “We are immensely proud to reach this momentous milestone. Balboa Pharmacy’s journey reflects not just a century of healthcare, but a century of building relationships and contributing to the overall well-being of our community.”

Balboa Pharmacy will be holding a centennial celebration on Thursday, May 16 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. featuring refreshments, photo opportunities, historical displays, memorabilia and an hourly raffle of goods donated by a number of the pharmacy’s vendors. Prize drawings will start at 1 p.m. Denger said the store will also be holding a monthly raffle throughout the rest of the year for customers.

Customer Vince Smith shares a memory with store manager Kim Denger.
Vince Smith shares a memory with store manager Kim Denger at the Balboa Pharmacy on Thursday. The store will celebrate its 100th birthday on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach on Thursday, May 16.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)