The Story of Tom and Marty
By Sandy O’Hare
If you are of a certain age, you can probably remember the old-time pharmacy of your youth with the white haired, helpful, unrushed, friendly pharmacist, who you could actually talk to in person. A place where you could find anything and everything you needed in one store, where you could sit at the soda fountain counter and order a cherry coke, buy a Snickers, some chips, a Sliky or some Pick-up-Sticks, Tiddly Winks (remember those?), or a jump rope with real wooden handles. At Tom’s Pharmacy in Ajo, Arizona, you will find all of this. Ok, maybe not the cherry coke or the old fashioned soda fountain, but everything else and more. But lets back up and start at the beginning.
It all began on a Monday, with an invitation for a few sorority sisters to meet a small group of male classmates for a beer at Gio’s. The girls arrived first and chose a large booth at Giovanis. Marty sat on the end. Martys friend, Rich, brought along a friend, Tom Branson, who was just out of the Air Force with three years of St. Louis College of Pharmacy under his belt. Tom sat next to Marty. They were introduced, and talked late into the night. On Tuesday Marty and Tom went on their first date. Wednesday, Marty had a previous engagement but Thursday was their second date, Friday their third. Whether you believe in love at first sight or not, that is exactly what happened. Saturday night brought a romantic dinner with background music by the grat jazz artist, Erroll Garner. Tom proposed. The next day, when Martys mother was told of their engagement, she was not surprised. She said that she had already seen “the love in Marty’s eyes”. The couple had planned to wait a year to wed, but both were working part time and both were attending college, which didn’t allow much time to see each other. Marty says, “It was quite the whirlwind courtship”. So, on Wednesday, June 6, 1956 (6-6-56), Tom and Marty Branson were married. In a small ceremony with friends and family present, in St. Louis at the Chapel at Washington University where Marty was in her junior year, they said their vows.
During the early years of their marriage, any spare time meant heading west to different parts of Arizona. At one point, during vacation time, “For future speculation”, he said, Tom had planned the trip to coincide with the testing for the Arizona Board of Pharmacists. He took the test, and when notified he had passed with flying colors, he quit his job at the City of St. Louis Hospital, went home to Marty and announced at the dinner table, “We’re moving to Arizona. I passed the Board”. “Tom had always held an enchantment with the west”, Marty said, and that were they were heading.
Marty, the next day, resigned from her position as underwriter for a large insurance company in St. Louis. She worked until the clock struck 12 NOON, then joined her husband and, in 1965, they headed on the road to Phoenix. She said, “It was about 9pm when we drove over that last hill and I saw all those lights spread out over the valley. I knew that was my city”. By the next day they had found the perfect 2 bedroom apartment with a pool right outside the door (of course). Tom found the job he wanted at the second pharmacy he chose to interview. It took two weeks for their furniture to arrive, and shortly thereafter Marty was letting her fingers do the walking through the Phoenix yellow pages under the heading Insurance Companies. Marty found what she was looking for, called a cab and headed for Central Avenue. That same day, at the last stop on her list, Marty was hired by Firemans Fund Insurance Company as their underwriter. While living in Phoenix they were able to leave town on a Friday to return home on Sunday after exploring yet another area of the state. These weekend trips continued even after the birth of their son, Tom Branson III at Saint Joseph Hospital. For 18 years they enjoyed living and working in the Phoenix area.
Evidently by then they were ready for a change of scenery, because in 1983, when Marty’s company moved her position to Spokane, Washington, they decided to follow her job. With Toms education and talent as a pharmacist, he could pretty much slide into employment just about anywhere. So off to Spokane they went for three years before moving back to Arizona, to Tucson this time because they had never been there and wanted to check it out. In 1991 it was back to Phoenix and another “perfect” apartment with a pool and, for Tom, it was back to a job as independent pharmacist. No more chain pharmacies for him, he was much more comfortable being independent.
In1995, while working part time for a friend, Tom, then age 65, decided , Marty said, “He wanted to own just one more store, just one more pharmacy. He would tell you that since he was 12 years old he practically grew up in his fathers store in St. Louis and that being a pharmacist was in his blood”. Tom looked around the Phoenix area but did not find exactly what he was looking for. Tom and Marty had traveled through Ajo many times on their trips south to Rocky Point. Now, Tom remembered a small pharmacy tucked away in the Ajo Plaza, next to what is now Copper Hills Realty, known as Shivelys Pharmacy since the late 1980’s. Marty had enjoyed growing up in a small town. So, off to Ajo they drove…to make a deal. That was in 1995. They bought Shivelys Pharmacy, renamed it Tom’s PHamacy, held a 50% off sale on everything, and then completely re-stocked the store with new merchandise. In the meantime, they spent every weekend traveling back and forth to Phoenix packing and unpacking their entire household full of “stuff”, and moving it to Ajo. They moved their furniture into a rental, then three months later found and purchased the house they wanted to make their home. Marty had never worked at a pharmacy, for years she had been an underwriter for Firemans Fund Insurance, but she told Tom she would, as she said, “Help out as a clerk a the store for awhile”. By 1998, it was time to expand. The pharmacy was then moved across the Plaza to the front/corner building. This move involved another complete renovation, as the flooring, Marty said, “Was the same as installed in 1940 when the building was originally constructed”. Expanding, once again, in 2009, taking over yet another store (next door) and completely remodeling, made the pharmacy what it is today.
In 2009, the same year in which Tom was presented his 50 year service plaque by the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance, the “new” store was complete with new security and all new systems in place. Tom’s is truly a full service pharmacy, with special orders gladly accepted, case discounts available, a new pharmacy program for people with no insurance or discount cards, all generics priced at only $9, blood pressure and blood glucose tests on site, products stocked by and with customer referral, all items visibly sticker priced for your convenience and prescriptions cheerfully filled. Tom’s Pharmacy is a complete full service, hands on, big city pharmacy located in the small town of Ajo.
You would think that this is the end of the story, but wait. In their “spare time”, while taking care of the daily business at the pharmacy, the Bransons, in 1996, bought SI COMO NO, which is across from the bank on the main drag, and is loaded with Arizona souveniers, Indian silver and turquoise jewelry, curios, books, hats, collectibles, and clothing too. The couple then purchased “for speculation”, the restaurant, Don Juans, next door to the bank in 1998. That property they leased out until 2007, when they began once again, another complete renovation which resulted in a re-opening as 100 Estrella Restaurant and Lounge. Bransons also own Indulgence, a liquor store at the corner of the main highway and 1st Street, where there is currently a 40% discount offered on all liquor in stock. Better hurry in getting to Ajo, no telling what they will be up to next. Here are just a few items you will find at Toms.
Organic coffees, coffee bean grinders, tiddly winks, Pick-up Sticks, yo-yos, Slinkys, jump ropes, gluten free products, like cookies and horse radish, oils (almond, avocado, sesame, canola), organic apple juice, acai berry juicy, Arizona souvenirs, shot glasses, sunglasses, post cards made of copper, walking canes and tips, mesquite flour, pintos, split peas, brown rice, rolled oats, oat bran, flours and grains, powdered goat milk, aprons, bedpans, deodorants, candy bars, beef jerky, chips, sodas, lotions, shampoo, conditioner, diabetic socks, chewable Dramamine, pain relief remedies, handmade glycerine soaps, and fresh raw nuts, watches, belts, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, purses, aprons, Russell stover candy (sugar free too), cornbread, sopapilia milk, celestial herbal teas, boot and shoes laces, greeting cards, nail files, combs, tissue, diapers, ace bandages, mouthwash, glyceriny, Benefiber, AlkaSeltzer, Tums, cotton balls, rubbing alcohol, hairspray, toothpast, iodine, chapstick.
Tom’s Pharmacy Open M-F 9am – 5pm (520) 387-7080. Most orders ready next day.
Si Como No Open M-Sa 10am – 4pm (520) 387-7001. Unique items, Arizona souveniers, trendy fashions and silver jewelry.
100 Estrella Restaurant & Lounge Open Tu-Sa 10am – 11pm (520) 387-3110. “Best Burgers in Town”, full bar, Margaritas, 14 drafts and over 20 bottled beers!
Indulgence (main Hwy so. of Dollar General) 40% Off Sale Now.