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  • Vahrij Manoukian, owner and operator of Hollis Pharmacy, could barely contain his excitement during Newt Gingrich's visit. Manoukian, a Hollis selectman, is a former chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Committee and enthusiastic participant in every presidential election. Hattie Bernstein photo.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gingrich hot item at Hollis pharmacy

HOLLIS – If Newt Gingrich had been the only eligible bachelor at a speed dating event, he wouldn’t have received a warmer welcome than the one local residents gave him Monday morning inside the Hollis Pharmacy on Ash Street.

The former speaker of the House was scheduled for a brief appearance at the pharmacy, where owner Vahrij Manoukian, a town selectman, has been hosting visits from Republican presidential candidates since 2006.

Earlier this year, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Tom Tancredo and other Republican hopefuls were guests.

“They know if they’re going to win in Hollis, they have to come here,” said the pharmacist, a former chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.

Manoukian was almost speechless as he escorted Gingrich around the crowded shop, stopping at the health and beauty section for photographs and handshakes and doubling back to the pharmacy counter for more of the same.

There was competition for the candidate’s attention. But attendees were polite, gently nudging into crevices formed by elbows and arms to get the closest possible look at the candidate, or better yet, his hand and ear.

Some supporters carried signs they planned to display in their yards after getting Gingrich’s signature and blessing.

Others stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed, like teenage girls waiting for a look at their latest heartthrob.

Among the crowd were familiar local faces, including Jack Flanagan, Brookline selectman and Republican state representative; Hollis resident John Anderson, president of the local taxpayers group, Informed Citizens United; Hollis School Board member Debbie Pucci; and Brookline resident Valerie Ogden, a frequent contributor during public comment sessions at the town’s cooperative school board meetings.

Police Chief Jay Sartell, police Lt. Richard Mello and Fire Chief Rick Towne stood on the perimeter, watching with as much interest as anyone else.

It wasn’t just the inside of the pharmacy that was packed like a can of sardines, either.

Outside, every parking space was filled, and a police officer on detail across the street was waving motorists out of a private business lot, and over to the Harvest Market.

Indeed, there were a lot of people in a relatively small space: the candidate’s sizable staff and reporters and photographers from CNN, Fox News, Reuters, The New Yorker, the Boston Globe, the Swiss newspaper Newe Zurcher Zeitung, among others.

A conservative Republican, Gingrich is known, among other things, for his “Contract with America” and how his ideas influenced President Ronald Reagan.

In person, he was often the first to extend his hand after a supporter approached.

There was little time for substance, however, although 15 minutes is more than enough time for the handshaking and eye contact necessary to gauge the chemistry between two people.

And it was enough here Monday morning for Gingrich to court and spark.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or