Cathy Allen understands the nostalgia that so many customers experience when they visit Owl Drug in Coleman, whether it’s to get a prescription filled, buy something in the gift shop, or enjoy a coffee, smoothie, breakfast or lunch in the soda fountain & grill.
She and her two brothers helped out with the family-owned business growing up and feel that connection to the past. A slogan on the drugstore’s website explains why customers, generation after generation, continue to come into the store: “Locally Owned, Locally Loved, Proudly caring for our community since 1923.”
That’s right–1923. The store celebrated its centennial year in 2023, as did other businesses and institutions in Coleman and the surrounding area. Owl Drug is unique in that it is one of the few remaining family-owned pharmacies that still has a working fountain and grill. Allen’s parents, Jim and Linda Caldwell, bought the drugstore in 1976 from Oplin “Op” Saunders, who had owned it since 1941.
Running Owl Drug was truly a family affair, with both of Allen’s parents working as pharmacists, her two brothers making deliveries and doing maintenance work, and Cathy working in the gift shop and soda fountain. Whatever needed to be done, someone in the family could handle it.
“We worked together as a family,” Allen said, “and learned the value of a strong work ethic and connecting with the community.”
The current location of Owl Drug, 312 S. Commercial Ave. in downtown Coleman, is a block down the street from the original. Today, Allen runs the operation with the help of a dedicated staff. Her husband, Zac, a rancher, and daughter, Abbi, a student at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, help as they can. Jim and Linda Caldwell are retired but live in Coleman. Their involvement with the drugstore is behind the scenes, Allen said. “The things they do are necessary,” she said, “but not things that need to be done right now.”
Drawing folks from near and far and from the beginning to now, is the soda fountain & grill, which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The old-fashioned Owl Burger still reigns supreme. Allen described the generational favorite as a “classic, no-frills, handmade burger.” The 1923 Burger is a little fancier – with mushrooms and a different style bun – but is popular, too.
The gift store, or The Owl’s Nest, is a popular place to shop for local and area residents, with a wide range of merchandise. Bridal and baby registries are available.
At the heart of Owl Drug’s success story is Jim and Linda Caldwell. Owl Drug is known as the place “Where Friends Meet” and that is due to the atmosphere and reputation that the Caldwells built. “It has always been of paramount importance to them that our pharmacy patients are treated like family,” Allen said, “and from there it flows down.”
Allen isn’t a pharmacist herself, but she comes from a long line of pharmacists on both sides of the family. Besides her parents both being pharmacists, both of her grandfathers were, too. Her mother’s mother, Opal Laxon Riley, was one of the first female graduates of Baylor University School of Pharmacy, which no longer exists. Of course, the children knew her as a grandmother first, and called her Memaw. “She took care of the whole family when we were growing up,” Allen said.
And, there’s more to the pharmacists-in-the-family story. Each of Allen’s parents had just one sibling, a brother in both cases. And each of them was a pharmacist. Another remarkable story is how Jim and Linda happened to meet. Hint–the chance meeting happened in pharmacy school.
Linda grew up in Santa Anna, 10 miles from Coleman, and Jim in West Columbia, 55 miles from Houston. The first time Jim ever saw Linda was at a band contest. One glimpse and Jim was hooked, telling a buddy that he would marry that girl someday. Never mind that they didn’t even meet that day.
That happened later when both were enrolled at the University of Texas College of Pharmacy. Jim couldn’t believe his eyes when he spotted the girl he vowed he would marry. The students had assigned seats, and Jim kept trading places to get closer to Linda. He was persistent in his pursuit of Linda and that persistence paid off, resulting in a happy ending to the story.
“He ended up marrying her,” Allen said, just as he had promised the first time he saw her.