Collier Drug Store / Courtesy photo
They say the first year is the hardest for a new business.
After that, the places that make it a decade are doing pretty good. It’s quite an accomplishment to last for 20 years in just about any field, and businesses that make it to 30? Those are the places considered institutions in most communities.
This year, however, a Fayetteville business has surpassed all of those milestones, and several more. Local pharmacy Collier Drug Stores is set to celebrate 100 years in business this month.
The company will ring in its century in style, with an event from 1-5 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 16 at the Dickson Street location. The celebration will include food, inflatables for the kids, a mobile soda fountain, live music by Rachel B Table for Three, and other activities.
The event is free to attend and open to the public.
A bit of history
Collier Drug got its start when M.M. Collier opened his first pharmacy, then named The Red Cross Drug Store, on the Fayetteville square in 1917.
His son, Morris G. Collier, began working in the family business in 1930, and together, they opened a second location called Collier Drug Stores on Dickson Street in 1950.
The Dickson Street location was considered “a modern pharmacy with an old-timey atmosphere,” complete with a soda fountain that attracted folks of all ages for ice cream, root beer floats, and other treats.
Opening the Dickson Street location was kind of a bold move at the time, according to Carl Collier, M.M.’s grandson, who still works for the company.
“They were looking to get off the square at the time,” Carl said. “It was crowded, and there wasn’t much parking. They wanted to expand in a different direction. There were some small businesses on Dickson Street, but nobody thought about putting a drug store down there until mom and dad did.”
They operated both stores for a few years until the original Red Cross Drug Store was damaged in a fire in 1955. After that, the family decided to concentrate on the Dickson Street location.
Since then, the company has grown to operate 10 stores across Northwest Arkansas, including Fayetteville, Farmington, Prairie Grove, Springdale, Elkins, Johnson, Centerton, and Bentonville. And it employs dozens of folks from all over the region.
A family affair
Carl Collier / Courtesy
Collier Drug Stores has always been a family affair. The company, now owned by Carl’s son Mel, has been passed through four generations.
After M.M. started the company, Carl’s father, Morris G. and his wife Isabelle ran it for a number of years. Carl and his brother Morris H. took over, (Morris H. passed away in 1989) before Mel bought out all the partners about 10 years ago.
Carl still works as a pharmacist for his son, filling prescriptions and giving free consultations to customers mostly at the Dickson Street location.
“My kids started at 8 and 9 checking in orders and putting up merchandise,” Carl said. “Now, Mel owns it, and he does a tremendous job. He’s not a pharmacist but he is a very good business man, and does a great job with our finances.”
The secret to success
Carl pointed to several things over the years that he thinks has helped the business survive and thrive.
He mentioned his father Morris G. Collier’s decision to purchase the Presbyterian Church next door and sell it at cost to the U.S. Government for what would eventually become the post office on Dickson Street.
“That was a big part of our success, because of the traffic it brought to Dickson Street,” Carl said. “It continues today. If you’re next to a post office, you’ve got a lot of good traffic to your business.”
He credited his mother with the decision to invest in a large parking lot at their Dickson Street location in a time where automobiles were becoming more popular, and the need for parking became more and more important.
He talked about the company’s strategy of locating in places convenient to hospitals and doctors offices, and their habit of investing in the community, and investing and reinvesting in their business over the years.
The old soda fountain at the Dickson Street location / Courtesy
The company has been nimble enough to evolve with the times, from the soda fountain days, to selling camera equipment and developing film, and rolling with the punches as health care regulations and policies change.
He mentioned expanding the company’s inoculation and immunization business, offering flu shots and other services in an effort to help reduce the burden on local doctors offices.
The decision to offer free delivery – one that is not always cost efficient for the company – is a key differentiator for Collier Drug Stores in an era where that level of service seems to be disappearing as well.
The camera shop inside Collier Drug / Courtesy photo
“You know, some of these people came to us for 30-40 years when they could,” he said. “And now if they can’t drive, or if they have small children, or for whatever reason, we take their medicine to them because it is the right thing to do.”
The biggest key, he said, was the relationships his family has built over their century of doing business in the region.
“It’s the relationships, no question,” he said. “During the depression, if people couldn’t afford their medicine, my grandfather would just give it to them because he knew they needed it. We still do business with those families to this day, and we still try to treat our customers like they are a part of our family.”
Carl, now 76, said he still takes great pride in the business his family has built.
Some days more than others.
“Sometimes, I feel like my legs have been here for all 100 years,” he said with a smile.