The old drugstore sat on a busy highway, and saw many comings and goings. Because it was the bus stop, it proudly displayed the metal arrow sign out front. It was pulled up with an old and rusty chain if there were passengers to get on the bus. The bus stopped regularly to leave a box of supplies or in late summer the new schoolbooks. All supplies for each grade were always put together and ready for each parent to pick up along with the books needed for that year.
The outside of the L & R Sundries had not changed in 50 years, only the name. The building was a two-story building with a brick façade that may have been red brick in their younger days but were now a weathered mahogany. The front was bricked up 4 feet and then glass all the way to 8 feet. The store was only about 20 feet wide, 40 feet deep.
The front door sat inside a wide entryway that was recessed about 4 feet with windows flanking the entry. Thousands of feet had tramped in and out of this door, and what a door it was. It was half again as wide as a regular door, and very heavy. The wooden frame was 8 inches wide all the way around and 2 inches thick and the whole interior was heavy glass.
Millions of fingerprints had decorated that glass to form their own brand of shorthand. The stories those fingerprints could have told would be amazing, but they had been washed away like meaningless smudges. The large brass door handle and the wood around it was smooth and discolored from the many fingers and hands that had handled them over the years.
Just inside the door to the left in the little alcove sat the magazine rack. The same person that built the door must have built it. The wood looked the same and was of very sturdy timbers. There were two slanted tiers at the top that were larger than the magazines and at the bottom there was a small shelf that the children would sit on and scan the comic books. It seemed there were always one or two kids sitting there reading.
Rows of shelves of various sizes lined the left wall from the magazine rack to the back of the room. Everything from Aspirin to Wintergreen mouthwash filled the shelves. In front of these shelves were two glass cases that proudly displayed the jewelry and perfumes and other items deemed to expensive to sit on a shelf.
At the rear of the drug store was a small narrow room that was now used for storage, but had been the pharmacy in its better days. There was even the elevated window ledge that the pharmacist passed the bottles through. A large decanter of colored water still hung around on the ledge that proclaimed this was the pharmacy.
Just to the right of the front door as you came in stood a large glass display case that matched the ones in front of the wall of shelves. This case held cigarettes, which sold for 35 cents a pack, and candy bars and packs of gum that sold for a nickel. On top of the case stood the old cash register that was as old as the store.
The soda fountain occupied about 1/3 of the rest of that wall. This was the original fountain with the ten-foot long mirror that was 6 feet high behind it. The mirror was perched on top of a small counter that held some of the syrups and the milk shake machines. The whole fountain area was stainless steel and was a continuous cleaning project. The owners expected it to gleam at all times.
In front of the fountain sat round chrome stools that were covered in red vinyl that matched the vinyl of the booths. Adults drinking coffee or their cokes always occupied the two booths that were just behind the fountain on the right hand side of the room.The kids seemed to perch on the stools so they could aggravate the soda jerk. But if no adults were occupying the booths the kids would take them over as well.
Beside the booths and in the middle of the room sat an ice cream freezer where candy bars and ice cream bars were kept, and behind that sat the old juke box.
Sitting directly behind the booths was a small wood counter. It had string and paper and ribbon of all colors hanging on racks. This was the place we could make magic with wrapping paper and ribbon .The gifts that were purchased in the store were wrapped free.
It is no wonder that a soda fountain with this much character served many characters in their own right.
One old man loved to come into the fountain and have a cup of coffee, whether summer or winter. He did not have much money so the two owners, Lena and Ruth, decided that if he would take the fly swatter when he came in and if he killed 10 flies while he was there, his coffee was free. He rarely paid for a cup of coffee.
There was the couple that always arrived at 4:20 pm for a cherry coke. Not the large one that sold for a dime, but the small nickel one. When the soda jerk arrived from school the first order of business was to make two nickel cherry cokes and place them on the counter just beside the old coke machine that perched on the counter. The next time she looked at the counter they were perched on the stools happily enjoying their cherry cokes.
There were the two kids that were real terrors. When they came in the front door, one of us had to stop doing our job to follow them around. If you didn’t follow them they would take anything they could hide in their clothes right out the front door.
There were always the jocks trying to impress everyone and the soda jerk by telling stories about their prowess on the basketball court or the football field. We were usually too busy behind the fountain to be impressed by all the bragging; but it didn’t stop them from trying to convince us how great they were.
Most former soda jerks would tell you they would have worked without pay, just to be in the middle of everything that was going on in our little town. The job in the old soda fountain was not work it was fun. To contact Sandy: [email protected]