Few establishments in Telluride can boast as long a history here as Sunshine Pharmacy, and few business owners have had quite the staying power as pharmacist Mark Watenpaugh. Next week, Watenpaugh and Sunshine Pharmacy will celebrate 35 years of serving the Telluride community with an anniversary celebration on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the main street store.
Of his first years in Telluride, Watenpaugh recalls: “It was like living in a Western movie set,” complete with dilapidated buildings standing as remnants of Telluride’s mining boom, as well as notorious personalities lingering as living legends from the town’s wild days (including notorious Sheriff Everett Morrow). Colorado native Watenpaugh, who had visited Telluride with his family as a kid, brought wife Jane to town for the first time on their honeymoon in 1968.
Five years later, just as the Telluride Ski Resort was coming to life, Watenpaugh was working nights and weekends as a staff pharmacist in the University of Colorado General Hospital, spending his days hitting the slopes on the Front Range. An avid skier and ski mountaineer at heart, Watenpaugh was attracted to an advertisement in a newspaper calling for a part-time pharmacist position in Telluride.
“It was pretty hard to make that jump, from living in Boulder and working in one of the state’s largest hospitals, to here,” Watenpaugh says, noting that since business was so slow for the first few years he had to take part-time pharmacist jobs at independent pharmacies across the region. Not deterred by Telluride’s still-sleepy character, Watenpaugh and then-business partner Jerry Race opened Sunshine Pharmacy in 1975 (named after one of the owners’ favorite peaks to scale, Sunshine Peak.)
The duo opened Sunshine Pharmacy in its current location, but it was about one-third the size it is today. “We filled hardly any prescriptions in a day,” Watenpaugh recalls, and the two pharmacists co-managed a pharmacy in Cortez just to make ends meet.
In the years since, Sunshine Pharmacy has grown significantly, both in size as well as local repute. But Watenpaugh says that Telluride has never been an easy place to make a living or raise a family (he and Jane have two grown sons, Ernie, 28, and Elliott, 23). Watenpaugh has been offered jobs in numerous other locales, from Steamboat Springs to Hawaii, but he has always remained true to Telluride and the little pharmacy he built from the ground-up.
“I like being a pharmacist here,” Watenpaugh says simply, as he sits in his small office in the back of the store. Still wearing sandals (he has just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon), Watenpaugh says that Telluride is probably the most beautiful place he can imagine calling his home. “This is a wonderful community to work with; we know everyone, from the emergency room nurses to Doctor Homer. It’s such a tight-knit community…and a great place to live.”
As for the future of Sunshine Pharmacy, Watenpaugh says customers can expect much of the same, which he says is a good thing. “I feel happy with what I have, and proud of what I’ve made. I’ve always wanted a small Victorian pharmacy… everything you see here is what I wanted, and I built it that way,” he says.
Customers and community members are welcome to attend Sunshine Pharmacy’s 35th Anniversary Celebration on Wednesday, Oct. 20. There will be a drawing for a gift basket, prizes for kids, and “more surprises,” says co-manager Sue Taylor. “We want to thank the community for their support over the last 35 years,” Taylor says, adding that everyone is invited to stop in for what she says is shaping up to be a fun event.