Craig Today's consumers are accustomed to picking up their drug prescriptions and home medical supplies in a section of a grocery or discount store that is part of a chain. The concept of a chain store may seem a modern phenomenon, but it is nearly as old as the city of Craig.
In 1902, Dr. J.E. Downs and Clyde Seymour opened one of Craig's first drugstores, City Drug Co., in a new building in the center of town. The new structure was 23 feet by 36 feet and adjoined the opera house on Yampa Avenue.
The Craig Courier described the up-to-date business: "The fixtures of the store are new and modern in every respect. The north side of the store is devoted to drugs, medicines and stationery. On this side, is a handsome glass showcase reaching to the door, filled with choice perfumes, soaps and toilet articles. : On the south side is a fine marble soda fountain over which is suspended a beautifully colored and fancy show jar. The fountain is provided with a supply of delicious hot-weather beverages and pure fruit syrups. A feature of this department will be ice cream soda with crushed fruits, which will be served on Saturdays and Sundays." (Craig Courier, May 24, 1902)
A forerunner of today's all-in-one stores, City Drug also offered musical instruments such as violins, guitars, mandolins, as well as sheet music of the day. Prescriptions were filled in a closed-off area of the store, allowing for control of the drugs.
It isn't clear what happened to the partnership of Downs and Seymour, but in 1909, the Routt County Courier reported the following; "A deal was consummated Tuesday that transferred the ownership of the Craig pharmacy to two young men from Denver, H.O. Lutz and E.F. Woods. The store, which has been closed for nearly three months, was opened yesterday and will be personally conducted by Mr. Lutz. For the first time in the history of Craig, a registered pharmacist will be in charge of a prescription department in this town." (Routt County Courier, August 5, 1909)
Although chain drug stores dominate the market today, they aren't new. One of the earliest chains saw the promise of Craig's growth and invested in the town.
Frank Cowan managed the Chamberlain-Gray Drug store in Kremmling and Hot Sulphur before moving to Craig in 1906 to manage Craig's first chain drug store.
In 1919, Cowan was able to purchase the Chamberlain-Gray concern and changed the name of the business to Cowan Drug. It became a solid fixture in the growing community for decades to follow.
By 1930, Cowan brought Owen P. Dyar in to take the position of head druggist. A University of Oklahoma graduate and Colorado native, Dyar had served 25 months in the U.S. Army during WWI and was looking for a place to call home. He and his wife, Mina, had two children before her death in February 1940. They loved Craig and quickly became part of the community. He remarried in 1946 and brought his new wife, Margaret, to Craig where she happily joined the social life of Craig for the rest of her life.
In 1940, Frank Cowan told Dyar, "I want you to buy my drugstore." Dyar said that he couldn't afford the purchase, but Cowan helped him to buy the business, just requiring that the name remain Cowan Drug. Dyer partnered with Dr. B.M. Bailey for several years and then bought out his interest in the store. In 1951, Bill Dyar, Owen Dyar's son, and Paul Peddecord each bought half of Bailey's interest and kept the thriving business going.
By 1947, Dyer could see that the town was growing enough to support another drugstore. He and Glen Anderson opened the Palace Drug store at the southeast corner of Yampa Avenue and Victory Way. Glen and Rose Anderson were partners in the new store and ran it until Glen retired in January 1951. He sold his interest in the store to Dyer and his son Bill, Glen Jordan and Paul Peddecord and headed out with his fishing pole in hand.
Another business partnership of Whiteman and Whittaker was doing a strong business in their drug store, and they decided to bring in another pharmacist. The store had been closed before their ownership, and they found that long-distance ownership was difficult.
W.P. Irwin had grown up working in drug stores. By the second decade of the 20th century, Irwin was a partner in a drugstore in Denver, but he and his wife wanted to try their hand at homesteading. That desire brought them to Craig in 1914.
Despite his hard work, the Irwins soon saw that their land would not support them, and they moved into town in 1918. He took over as pharmacist at Craig Drug and found his niche in Craig's tapestry.
By 1924, Bill Irwin had purchased the drugstore business from his former bosses. Within a few years, he moved the drugstore to 520 Yampa Ave., where it remained until his retirement in 1940. He went through a succession of pharmacists in his store until Jim Brinks arrived in 1955. Like Irwin before him, Brinks found that Craig was a place he could call home, and he was here to stay.
Brinks watched as the other drug stores in downtown Craig closed their doors. Palace Drug Store closed in 1970, and after moving to the Centennial Mall for a few years, Cowan Drug closed its doors in 1984. One by one, the soda fountains disappeared, and the citizens of Craig saw the face of downtown sag as new chain businesses came in and absorbed the independent enterprises.
The owners of the small drugstores were faced with the choice of selling out to the corporate operations or lose everything they had worked for. Jim Brinks was the last holdout, but in 1993, he saw what needed to be done and sold his pharmacy practice to Kmart. City Market and Safeway already had swallowed the other small stores. He transferred all of his open prescriptions to the Kmart pharmacy and worked in the new store for a while to ease the transition for all involved.
"If I was quite a bit younger, I might have been able to compete, but it would have been a labor of love and not for money," Brinks told the Frontier Magazine as he prepared to close his shop for the last time.
His ad read; "Craig Drug Store, Jim Brinks, pharmacist; the closing of an era."
It had been a wonderful era for Craig - not just for business, but for the social advantages that can never be replaced by large impersonal corporate stores. That part of life went the way of soda fountains and handmade shakes on a Friday night date.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org