Friday, July 10, 2009
Here's another thing which has basically disappeared in this country: privately owned drugstores. These little shops used to be social centers of their own right, even containing a little eat-or-drink-in spot: the soda bar. Soda bars were eventually replaced by full-on lunch counters, which in turn were replaced by your favorite greasy fast-food joint. Basically folks didn't want to have to park their cars in the busy city districts, opting for the easier, built-in parking allotted to the newer, more surburban restaurants.
Drug stores changed as well, becoming like miniature Wal-Marts in their own right. You can still buy soda and snacks, but there's no more community center.
The above image is from a drugstore in Damariscotta, Maine, the small town in which my brother was born. Since Maine has towns that endeavor aggressively to keep their small businesses, little drugstores like this still survive. This one still has its original soda bar, and still sells soda and ice cream there. When I was growing up in Boothbay Harbor, we had three small drugstores: Brooks, Downeast Pharmacy and one more that's slipped my mind. Downeast Pharmacy had its bar in the back, but I can't remember in my old age how functional it was.
But Downeast had a lot of character. I would go there and sit in the back reading Mad Magazine, other times walking down from my house to rent a tape to watch. Sometime after I moved from Maine, the inhabitants of Boothbay (quite surprisingly) allowed a Rite-Aid to take up residence just out of town. Now Brooks is gone and Downeast Pharmacy is an antique store.
I've already mentioned Robertson's Drugstore in Searcy, now home to Quattlebaum's Music. But the rival drugstore Stott's, immediately to the right of Robertson's and visible in the above picture (then Bramlett's Cafe), is still in business. They are still a drugstore, but sell a lot of other bizarre things as well, as most existing private drugstores do. I've been in there and looked for remains of a soda counter, but found nothing. Most traces of antiquities are gone from Stott's, besides the various old trinkets lining the tops of the shelves and the 90 cent glass bottles of Coke available from an old vending machine at the front of the store.
But my favorite old drugstore is in Mountain View.
The apothecary is located in Mountain View's beautiful and functional downtown. I don't know much about its history, but it has clearly been there for a long, long time. The whole place is one of the best recreations of a bygone atmosphere I've ever felt. Just look at the beautiful tin ceiling! The apothecary serves ice cream, light lunch material and sodas, and of course they still have their classic soda bar:
At the bar, they actually mix up the sodas themselves, serving them as "phosphates." Even though it is arguably just the same as any soda you might get anywhere else, the fact that they mix them themselves, just like in the past, is what keeps me coming back.
That, and the apothecary isn't just a set piece: the place is a fully functional drugstore as well as nostalgia center. There are lots of reasons to go to Mountain View, but this is one of my favorites.