At Carl’s, Epler thrives amid chaos of Christmas |

At Carl’s, Epler thrives amid chaos of Christmas

Upstairs in Carl’s Pharmacy, amid a blizzard of anxious Christmas Eve shoppers, Patti Epler works calmly and undisturbed.

For 10 days days leading up to Christmas, Epler is Carl’s official gift wrapper. Retired, she has snowy hair and a grandmotherly face. She is dressed in splendid holiday attire in a back-pleated skirt and woolly Christmas cardigan.

Her hands work quickly and diligently, keeping pace even as she explains why she works in the hectic days leading up to Christmas.

“I love it,” Epler says. “It’s fun to get out and see people, be part of this magical time.”

Carl’s Pharmacy is a locally owned store that sells a variety of products, from cosmetics to children’s toys, that are particularly popular during the holidays. In the days leading up to the 25th, queues to each of the five store registers have been known to run 20-people long.

The store offers complimentary gift-wrapping for all its purchases. For the past two years, Epler, who has lived in Aspen since 1967, has volunteered for the task. She was a longtime employee at the adjacent Miner’s Building, which is owned by the same family as Carl’s. She says she still keeps in touch with the store’s owner, Katie Bergman, and feels an accompanying loyalty to her stores.

“Katie and her husband are wonderful. I’m always happy to help her out.”

Epler now spends much of her time with her two children and grandchild, all of whom still live in town. She says family life has given her unique training for her gift-wrapping position.

“If you’ve been a mom, you’ve wrapped just about everything.”

Still, Epler lets out a sigh of relief when she sees her next pile consists mostly of puzzles and board games, symmetrical presents easy to wrap.

“The boxes are the best for me,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like I’m wrapping a balloon, when I have to do a basketball or something like that.”

With her methodical approach to gift-wrapping, with the line of unwrapped presents that never seems to end, only change, Epler says she cannot be sure how many presents she wraps a day. She estimates that on Christmas Eve she wraps more than 100 presents.

She works on the top floor of Carl’s, where Christmas decorations are crammed next to toys. The aisles are cramped, and most people inexplicably shop without baskets, trying to stack and gather piles of gifts in their arms. The mood is hectic, frenzied, just barely civil.

Opposite her desk, a middle-aged man talks to his wife on his cell phone. He ponders over a Star Wars Lego toy, carefully turning it over in his hands as if it were a rare emerald.

“I don’t know,” he tells his wife. “It doesn’t have the violent imagery we were worried about, but I’m worried it’s not cool.”

Epler says that, though clearly stressed, shoppers treat her and the rest of the staff with respect.

“This late in the game, they have to be nice; they need us,” she says with a mischievous grin.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is]

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