Drugstores were privately owned and/or family operated. Most of them, like the one in my neighborhood, had soda fountains. It was where I went after school in the days when a Cherry Coke cost only a dime.
When the last bell rang, it meant the end of the school day. We closed our books, gathered our belongings and scrambled through the door into the crowded corridors. If I hurried, I could get to my locker on the second floor, drop off what I didn’t need to carry home, grab my coat and meet my girlfriends in front of the school in less than ten minutes.
“Are we stopping at the drugstore?” one of them would ask.
“Of course,” I’d answer. “Let’s go so we can get a good seat at the fountain.”
Looking like something out of an Archie comic book with our ponytails and classic pageboy hairstyles, straight skirts, cardigan sweaters, ankle socks and penny loafers, we sat side by side on the high swivel stools with red vinyl seats. A small green blender made a whirring sound in the background. The sweet aroma of vanilla filled the air. The young man working the fountain, called a “soda jerk,” winked as he wiped the counter with a damp cloth.
The soda jerks were part of the allure. They looked cute in their white shirts, ties, paper hats shaped like little boats and aprons stained with pistachio ice cream and streaks of chocolate syrup.
Every fountain had an ice cream chest. Several small metal doors with black knobs provided easy access to an assortment of flavors stored below in round containers. The soda jerk would lift open one of the doors, reach down into the chest and dig out a big scoop to make a root beer float, chocolate frappe, banana split or a hot fudge sundae. He served a dish of ice cream in a silver metal holder lined with a white cone shaped paper cup. The syrup dispensers had gleaming stainless steel covers with pumps. He’d squirt a little cherry, lemon or vanilla into a tall glass of Coke and create a totally different drink. On a hot day, there was nothing like a cold glass of lemonade or a Raspberry Lime Rickey. Most of these fountain delights are available today, but somehow they seemed better back then.
The pharmacist, often the owner, knew all of his patrons. He was familiar with their ailments and always available to answer questions and offer advice. When a regular customer needed medicine for a sick child and couldn’t afford it, he let them pay a little at a time.
You could find almost anything at the corner drugstore. Besides the fountain treats, apothecary jars filled with tonics and elixirs, cough syrups, pills and various medications, they had newspapers, magazines, racks of comic books, penny candy, cosmetics, suntan lotions, sunglasses, thermometers, cigars, cigarettes, pipe tobacco, gift items, perfumes, talcum powder and Candy Cupboard chocolates. Some drugstores had booths with small jukeboxes on the tables. If you needed to make a phone call, there was a private wooden booth located near the back of the store. It had a folding door with glass windows, a small seat and a coin operated rotary dial black phone. The operator was able to give the caller change that somehow ended up in a small box on the phone.
My home town had places and things that gave us wonderful memories: Days at the beach, picnics on the Commons, movie theaters and a drive-in, bowling alleys, a bustling downtown with shops, restaurants and five and dimes, ballparks, playgrounds, ponds, bakeries and the best corner drugstores anywhere.