Carl Bergman, owner and founder of iconic Carl’s Pharmacy, dies at Aspen home
Carl Bergman, the Aspen icon behind Carl’s Pharmacy and the Miner’s Building, died peacefully Sunday at his home surrounded by his family. He was 85.
Bergman had battled cancer for more than 20 years, according to family and friends.
“Dad has been living on borrowed time for a long time,” his daughter, Linda Brining, said Tuesday. “I think he just lost steam.”
Known for his love of the steam engine, Bergman since 1976 had been a fixture at Winterskol and Fourth of July parades with his famous steam calliope. You could also find him at the Holden Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, where he toiled away restoring and rebuilding ranch and mining equipment. He was instrumental in having the museum created through the Aspen Historical Society, one of the many contributions he and his wife, Katie, made to the community. They were inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2010.
Bergman was at the museum just a few weeks ago, finishing his last project, which now sits outside of the barn, said Katie Bergman, his wife of nearly 61 years. She said her husband was unwavering in everything he did, and wouldn’t stop until the job was done. And he didn’t let his deteriorating health get in the way.
“Most people would have given up years and years ago, but he just had things to do,” she said.
Bergman, who founded Carl’s in 1965, was a hands-on business owner, and had been working at the Miner’s Building less than two weeks ago. His last outings were to attend the Aspen Hall of Fame dinner Jan. 20 and then to services the following day at Crossroads Church.
Bergman loved Aspen since the day he arrived in 1963 with Katie and his young children, Linda and Bob. Originally from Indiana, Bergman yearned to live out West and ski. He convinced Katie to make the move to Denver, and then job searched his way through the mountains until he landed one as a pharmacist at what was then Matthews Drug.
“Carl was just beside himself,” Katie Bergman said.
Two years later, the Bergmans bought the business and renamed it Carl’s Pharmacy. Then they bought a lot across the street and built the Miner’s Building in 1976.
Combined, the two stores offer up just about anything you need — from prescription meds to whiskey, to insect repellent and barometers and cosmetics, and everything in between.
They always intended to remain longtime retailers and not give in to market forces by selling out for profit.
“He worked very hard to make Aspen a really livable place,” Brining said.
The Bergmans employ around 60 people and they are all treated like family.
“He’s an icon, flat out,” said Jay Montano, who has worked for Carl Bergman for the past 28 years. “Everything he did was for his employees and this town.”
Joy Myers, who has been a buyer for the Bergmans for nearly 40 years, said they made her feel like they were part of the family.
“When an employee was in trouble they always knew it and they helped even when we were acting badly. … They were like our parents,” Myers said. “Carl and Katie had such teamwork in life and business.”
Bergman’s interests ran far and wide, but his affinity for Aspen history rose to the top. He was heavily involved in the Aspen Historical Society, and also served on Aspen City Council in his early years here.
He considered himself an amateur machinist — he picked up a hobby magazine one day and then assembled the brass and steel calliope contraption that his name has become synonymous with. And for 40 years, Bergman made the annual trek to Kansas for the steam engine conference.
“He would just go with his ideas and we would try to keep up with him,” Katie Bergman said. “Carl had the ability to think of different things and start them, and then we would finish them.”
Brining described life with her parents like this: “He spins the plates in the air and she kept them going.”
She said her father taught himself how to become a solid skier by studying photographs of legendary skier Stein Eriksen.
“He was a natural athlete,” Brining said.
Katie Bergman recalled how her husband convinced then-Aspen Highlands owner Whip Jones to give him a morning half-day pass so he could split his day skiing and working.
He also was an avid boater, and one of the founders of the Aspen Yacht Club.
“When he found out they were going to fill up Ruedi, Carl was in the drugstore every day, signing people up to be in the Yacht Club,” Katie Bergman said.
Years ago, he bought an old tugboat in Seattle and named it the Linda Kay — after his daughter. They would spend a month at a time with family and friends cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Bergman was in charge of planning the many family vacations they enjoyed together, including Lake Powell houseboat trips, and adventures to remote areas in Mexico and throughout Europe.
“He always went big,” recalled Brining about her father — whether it was hiking, biking, boating, fishing, skiing or Jeeping in the mountains looking for old, rusty mining equipment.
The Bergmans were heavily involved in their church, and religion was an important part of the family. Brining remembers a turning point when she was a teenager and her father became a born-again Christian.
“When he found his faith, he made sure we made decisions as a family,” she said. “He led his family well.”
A memorial service will be held at Crossroads Church on Feb. 10.
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