Over six decades ago, a young man named Jack and his family lived in Moab. Jack remembers how he and his father-in-law delivered groceries to Charlie Steen, who put Moab on the map with his discovery of the uranium mine he named Mi Vida.
Steen loaned his personal airplane to Jack (now a pharmacist) and Dr. Mayberry (a Moab doctor) to transport mining accident victims in Monticello to St. Mary’s in Grand Junction, Colorado.
That man was Jack Walker, and while in his 20s, he created what has long since become a Moab institution: Walker Drug-True Value. At the age of 25 years (in 1958), Walker bought three Walgreens drug stores with the assistance of financiers. Over time, this number increased to 12 pharmacies in Utah and Colorado. After 50 years, Walker eventually sold all but one: the store in Moab.
On March 10, Walker Drug-True Value officially marked its 60th anniversary. The celebration is still going on, though, with free gifts and raffles. Jack Walker is doing this to thank Moab residents for 60 successful years of business.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people of Moab,” he said.
At first, there were the flashlight/ keychain/ whistle/ compass combos and store-logo lip balm. Upcoming freebies will include free tote bags, and a free raffle for a huge stuffed dragon.
At this time, customers can participate in a raffle for a 2017 Jeep Renegade. For the Jeep raffle, you can visit the store daily to fill out one free raffle ticket a day, through March 29.
Walker, now 85 years old, still puts in 40 hours a week for the store and has about 50 people working for him. In addition to his full-time job, Walker still actively advocates for the fair pricing of pharmaceuticals. He has for 25 years fought this good fight by bringing his heartfelt message directly to Washington, D.C., where he says he is well-known: Drug manufacturers continue to hyperinflate their product prices.
“I’m in the drug business – the legal kind, the nonprofit kind,” Walker said. “The price of drugs today is criminal. That’s why I go to Washington, to fight it. But I’m losing, because Congress doesn’t care.”
Today, the enterprise consists of two side-by-side buildings. On the left is Walker Drug, which is a combination pharmacy, department store and grocery. On the right is the True Value hardware store and lumber yard.
“This was the old liquor store,” said Beckie Perez, manager of the True Value hardware department. “It has been remodeled three times to increase its capacity, and then we added a lumber yard.”
Walker sagely listened to his employees as well as his customers. Perez started the store in 1996. When Perez told Walker that True Value was getting big very rapidly and needed an additional manager, he created the lumber-manager position in 2002, currently filled by Eric Haycock.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Jack Walker, and for him to give me the opportunity to open the True Value store,” Perez said.
“I want to thank the community for the time I’ve spent getting to know everyone, and for being a useful part of their projects,” Haycock said.
Over the decades, other stores have been added to the drugstore proper.
“I brought City Market to Moab,” Walker said, where it remained for 28 years until it did so much business that it moved to its current location.
Walker was not the first or only drugstore in town when he first set up business in Moab. Rexall Drug was in Moab, but it was later sold to Miller Supermarket, which became Village Market. Then Family Drug arrived, but it closed when the owner was killed in a car accident.
Jack Walker is not the only Walker involved in an aspect of the family business.
For 25 years, his wife Lorraine ran three of Jack’s Hallmark Gold Crown Stores in Grand Junction, Colorado. His daughter Patty is a Walker Drug pharmacist. Jack had earned his degree in 1955, and “she had the some of the same instructors that I did in pharmacy school, 20 years later,” he said. The two of them would swap stories about their instructors. Last year, the College of Pharmacy and the Idaho State University Alumni Association awarded Walker a plaque for his significant professional achievements.
When the store was remodeled a few years ago, it won a national award through Progressive Grocer magazine for the best store design under 30,000 square feet.
What does Walker do for fun? “Work,” he said with a smile.
He is a longtime member of the National Community Pharmacists Association, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Utah Pharmacy Association. For 40 years, he has served on the board of directors for the Chain Drug Marketing Association and was recently chairman of the board. This last organization recognized Jack’s contributions in 2005 with a hall-of-fame award, “with gratitude for his loyal support, wise counsel, friendship and vision to help develop the growth of our association.”
He also likes to ski and travel. Walker has another home, in New York City, where he and Lorraine live in the spring and fall. Here he combines work and fun. For example, he attends trade shows in Manhattan to get contacts as well as keep up with industry trends and new products.
“Salesmen don’t come to stores anymore,” he said.
He also pointed out that with so many stores going out of business, he has brokers all over the country who buy closed-business inventories that are delivered to the Moab store and sold at a discount. This is why you will see, for example, Pier 1 products in the reduced-price aisles and discounted vitamins in front of the pharmacy section.
Missy Maynard, head cashier, echoed Walker’s pride in the store’s products and performance that goes beyond simple customer service.
“I love helping our customers,” she said. “There was this one time that I saw one of our regular customers looking ill, and it turned out he was having low blood sugar. I grabbed a chair for him, sat him down, and then found him some orange juice.”
Founder thanks community for decades of support
What: Free raffle entries for a 2017 Jeep Renegade
When: Daily through March 29; one entry per person per day
Where: Walker Drug, 290 S. Main St.
Cost: Raffle tickets are free
We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people of Moab.