Fort Collins’ unique drugstore

City Drug

by Libby James

photo by Libby James

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City Drug, now located at 209 North College, dates back to 1873 when M.E. Hocker and William C. Stover opened up for business. In those days patent medicines and whiskey were mainstays, an aspect of the business which remains to this day. The patent medicines are gone but City Drug, the only independent and family-owned drugstore in Fort Collins, is proud of their collection of wine, hard liquor, and craft beers. William Stover sold his share of the business to his brother, Frank in 1874 and eventually, he became sole owner.

Through numerous owners and moves to lots of different locations around town, City Drug thrives today under the ownership of Sylvia Wilkins and her children Barbara and Bernie, both registered pharmacists. Sylvia and her pharmacist husband Charles, now deceased, bought the store from the Grover brothers in 1991. They had formerly owned Bob’s Lemay Pharmacy in Fort Collins.

The Wilkins take pride in their unique history but also in the amazing variety of merchandise they carry. Sylvia, now well into her eighties, works full-time and does not hesitate to promote her wares. A registered nurse, she met Charles in Germany while both were in military service. They settled in Iowa for a time before coming to Fort Collins.

“My husband gave me the checkbook and told me to figure out how much I needed to sell to make ends meet,” Sylvia said. Bernie and Barbara are doing the heavy lifting these days but Sylvia continues to be a super salesperson. Loyal customers come from as far away as Colorado Springs.

Both the younger Wilkins have pharmacy degrees from the University of Wyoming and have been in the family business all their working lives. It is obvious that they love their work and their place of business.

“My dad was my mentor,” Barbara said.

She is a certified post-mastectomy specialist and finds this part of her work especially rewarding. She also encourages customers to consider compression socks and enjoys seeing them become a simple solution for leg and foot issues.

Regulations surrounding the medical equipment aspect of the business have become more stringent and challenging over time, Bernie says. The store carries crutches, walkers, breast pumps, a whole array of medical equipment. When he has a little time off, Bernie likes to dance, hike and work in his garden.

Barbara has been dedicated to improving the surroundings at their business site. She has promoted artwork in the alley behind the shop, painted concrete outdoor planters with Colorado scenes in front of the shop, and is proud of the attractive seat outside the store commemorating her father’s legacy with a plaque. She likes the sense of community that has developed in their location.

Newcomers to town are excited to find City Drug. They pore over exotic European foods, “from Russia, Hungary, Italy, France, Germany, all over the continent,” Sylvia says. Among specialties is European coffee which has low acid content, good for those with stomach problems, foods containing less sugar, and exotic chocolates. They carry German rye bread, special sausages made by two Swiss brothers, and, German rye and holiday bread, stollen and lebkuchen.

Sylvia Wilkins, daughter Barbara and son Bernie pose on the bench outside City Drug dedicated to the memory of Charles Wikins.

When you stop into City Drug, expect to stay awhile, check out the wealth of merchandise, and take a few moments to get to know the Wilkins family. Barbara says that forming relationships with her customers is one of the greatest pleasures of working in the business.