12th night bonfire
Annie Colby was just 12 years old the first time she saw the Eagle Pharmacy. Little did she know then that she would spend the next 49 years working at the store.
Colby’s parents — Al and Mary Hoza — had decided it was time to find a little drug store to purchase. Al Hoza was a pharmacist and Mary was a nurse and mother to the couple’s nine children. The Hozas figured they needed to run a business so they could both support and employ their brood. The Hozas were living in Colorado Springs at the time but had heard that Eagle Drug was for sale. They packed up the kids and drove up to Eagle one Sunday in 1966 to check out the property located at the corner of Broadway and Third Street.
“When we got to the store, to our dismay it was closed,” said Colby. “I remember all nine of us (ranging in age from 3 to 13 years) stood on the window ledge and cupped our eyes and looked in the front window. I remember all of us thought it was great and we told dad that we all wanted it.”
The Hozas purchased the business in 1966 and changed the name to the Eagle Pharmacy. And thus, a dynasty was born.
For the next nearly 50 years, the Nearly Everything Store was an Eagle landmark. In the fall, it drew hunters like a orange-draped mecca and generations of kids purchased summertime Slush Puppies at the front counter. On the shelves, shoppers could find everything from winter boots to rabbit cage bedding. And, of course, the business filled community prescriptions for decades before big box stores opened.
Last week, that history came to a quiet conclusion when Colby sold the business to John and Charity Batson. The Batsons purchased the pharmacy operation from Al and Mary Hoza back in 2007, when the couple sold the retail operation to their eldest daughter — the girl who had been working in the store for 41 years.
“I always said I went to EPU — Eagle Pharmacy University with Professor Dad. I guess if I had gone to college, he would have been one of those professors that I would never forget,” said Colby. “Being part of a family business was a great way to grow up learning values and work ethics. I thank Dad and Mom for teaching me all I learned so I could be proud of my accomplishments.”
A Hoza invasion
When the Hozas first arrived in the then sleepy village of Eagle, they made quite an impact. After all, it wasn’t every day that a family with nine kids (they welcomed sons Mark and Paul after the move) arrived in town. From the beginning, the kids were part of the Pharmacy operation. They were put to work dusting and stocking shelves. But when the store closed for the night, it was time for the Hozas to play. Their favorite games included, naturally, playing store but they also invented a hide-and-seek hybrid that involved tucking a timer into a remote hole and then launching a search to find it before the alarm bell sounded.
“Every night, I got off the school bus and I went to work. I loved it, probably because it meant I got out of housework,” said Colby.
Early on, she was given the responsibility of recording daily cash receipts and her responsibilities grew from there.
“As soon as I got my driver’s license (when she was a junior in high school), Dad would send me on buying trips to our distributor in Denver,” said Colby. That distributor warehouse was located along Wazee Street in the lower downtown area, which was a bit dicey at the time.
“I would take the family station wagon and drive to Denver and go in and order all of the office and school supplies and toys. Then I would drive around back and load up all of my purchases, minus their cartoons so I could get more in, for my trip back home,” Colby recalled.
Other buying trips were a family affair, when the Hoza kids would accompany their parents as they checked out Christmas merchandise or sporting goods. “We thought we were just getting to be important and go along with Mom and Dad, but I learned a lot in those early years about buying for the store,” said Colby.
When she was just 17 years old, Colby was headed to 4-H Camp Tobin at the Colorado State Fair. On her way to the weeklong camp, she took a trip to the Denver Merchandise Mart to do all the Pharmacy’s Christmas buying for the year.
Colby recalls that when the Hozas originally purchased the Pharmacy, she could see over all of the shelves inside the 3,5000 square foot building.
“But every time someone asked Dad for something he didn’t have, he would order the item and usually a whole line too. He would say that nobody should have to drive 30 miles to buy anything,” said Colby.
Over time, Hoza closed off the cross aisles in the store, building higher shelves and then ultimately hanging merchandise from the ceiling. Colby noted that the merchandise had grown from a value of around $35,000 to $150,000.
“We sold everything from vet supplies for the ranchers to toys, baby items, gifts and T-shirts, which Dad thought was just a fad and wouldn’t last so he told me to be careful how many I bought,” said Colby. The shelves also featured pottery, candy and canoes. At the back of the store, there was a pay telephone that hunters would use to let the folks back home know they had made it to their destination. Over time, the Pharmacy’s reputation as the “nearly everything store” was born as a reflection of Hoza’s commitment to the community.
That commitment played out over the years when he was called out late at night to bring medicine to a mom with a sick child. “He would always get up and go fix a prescription and then deliver it to their house,” said Colby.
Working with Dad
For 35 years, Colby worked with her father to manage, merchandise and operate the Eagle Pharmacy. The only gap was a couple of months right after she graduated from high school when she went to work as a seamstress for Gorsuch. She recalled being given the top of altering a $200 pair of ski pants for legendary racer Jean-Claude Kiley. “I couldn’t imagine anyone paying $200 for a pair of pants,” she said. She, on the other hand, was making minimum wage.
“After two months, I went back to Dad where I knew I was appreciated,” she said.
Colby and her dad had a unique and tight working relationship. He trusted her to run the front of the operation while he concentrated on the pharmaceutical work. In 1974, Annie married her husband Al and eventually the couple welcomed children Stacia and Shawn. Colby continued working at the store, changing up duties to include more time bookkeeping at home or organizing in the back room where she could bring the kids. When she needed to be on the sales floor, Mom Mary helped out.
“We were really good business partners. It was fun to work with Dad. We just had that type of relationship where we didn’t even have to talk about things,” she said.
But there was one store topic that took quite a bit of discussion.
“I kept asking Dad if we could enlarge but he kept providing me with a hundreds reasons why not,” said Colby. “I finally decided to quit asking because I figured he was the business man and must have a good reason why we shouldn’t. I will never forget the night when he walked up to the front counter after we had closed and I was checking out. He said ‘I think we are smothering ourselves and we need to enlarge. If you will do the work, I will pay the bills.’”
Double the fun
In 1987, the Eagle Pharmacy grew from 3,500 square feet to its present 9,000 square feet.
“We opened the remodel on Thanksgiving weekend of 1987. If you were related, an employee or related to an employee, you were helping with the move into the new store,” said Colby. “It didn’t matter what your age, we could find something for you to do.”
The process involved having someone pull one item off the shelf at the old part of the store, place it in a wagon, which one of the children pulled to someone on the new side. Once the item made it to the new part of the store, an employee would place it at its new shelf home. That provided the model so other people could move the remaining stock to the new location.
“What a whirlwind four days. But we were ready for business on Monday morning with everything in place. Our Thanksgiving dinner was served at the old Eagle Community House where 50 of us stopped work long enough to eat.”
The father/daughter team continued their partnership until 2008, when Hoza’s health started to fail and he decided he couldn’t continue running the pharmacy. John and Charity Batson purchase that part of the business and Annie and Al Colby purchased the retail store.
“When we remodeled in 1987 the name Eagle Pharmacy was really misleading. So when we put up the name of the business we added, as a joke at the time, ‘The Nearly Everything Store.’ When Al and I bought it, we just made that the official name of the business. I always thought it was too long but it did bring in a lot of business with people coming to see what ‘nearly everything’ looked like.”
Claims to fame
During its long history as Eagle’s downtown anchor, the Pharmacy has been face of the community for many outsiders. The outside sign has become an Eagle landmark. During the Christmas season, the sign is transformed into a huge Santa and during various Flight Days celebrations it has become a huge tepee and a circus clown.
Colby was the creative force behind the various verses proclaimed from the sign’s south side. During the Kobe Bryant case years ago, the sign became a worldwide sensation when it featured a series of talked about and photographed statements including “When you meet temptation turn right,” “It’s hard to put a foot in a shut mouth,” “Nothing to say lots to sell” and finally “East to west this sign needs a rest” and “Even stuck in the ground this sign sure got around.”
During her final week at the Pharmacy, Colby offered the community her retirement message: “If you hold on to your history, you do so at the expense of your destiny.”
Retiring from family business after nearly 50 years was not a decision Colby made lightly. At the same time, she said it was time to sell and to move on to her next adventure.
“I am going to get dressed when I want to in the morning and I am going to enjoy my life in the beautiful home my husband built me,” she said. “I am going to treasure my family and the time I get to spend with them.”
Colby’s husband Al is also retired and the couple celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2014. Their daughter Stacia and her husband Chad Brassington and children Kylan, Colby and Tenly and their son Shawn and his wife Marci and children Wyatt and Chloe all live in the area.
“I don’t see that I will have any free time, but will love deciding each morning (after waving to the grandkids on their way to school) what I would like to do each day with no schedules to follow,” said Colby. “I will also take some time to reflect on what I think was a job well done I always loved hearing ‘you had just what I needed.’”
The graduates of Vail Mountain School’s class of 2019 will be off to far-flung destinations next fall, set to enter college in one of 16 different states or explore the world on a gap year. One grad is even attending college in Canada.