Looking Back
April 27, 2016

Drug stores and soda fountains

Drug stores and soda fountains

Back in the 1950s when I was a child if you wanted an ice cream soda or a sundae, you could head to one of the downtown Rutland drug stores. They had lunch counters where you could get sandwiches and ice cream treats.

These stores were not part of a chain and they didn’t offer multiple aisles of products that one finds in today’s chain drug stores. “Back in the day” the pharmacies were owned by local individuals who lived in Rutland.

My father, Jim Whalen, was a pharmacist who started his career in the 1930s as the owner of Whalen’s Drug Store on the corner of South Main and Terrill Street. He ended his career in the late 1960s at Beauchamp & O’Rourke Pharmacy, then on Merchants Row. Contrary to the trend of other pharmacies, neither store had a lunch counter or a soda fountain. But in between the beginning and end of his career my father had the experience of filling prescriptions while other employees were preparing sandwiches, soups and ice cream. In today’s world that would be a rather odd combination of jobs under one roof.

After he closed his pharmacy my father went to work at Shangraw’s Pharmacy on Center Street. Their soda fountain was a popular place for young people to gather after school or a social event. An old photo I found online shows the lunch counter with stools and a sign for Wagar’s Ice Cream at 70 cents a quart. One feature of Shangraw’s that matches today’s chain stores was the fact that they had a photography department. Granted, you didn’t sit on a stool, insert a card and print out your photos the way you do today. You left a roll of film and went back later to pick up your pictures. Local resident Warren Dexter worked there and was very knowledgeable about camera equipment, film and photography. This service was a part of Shangraw’s Pharmacy along with prescriptions and ice cream.

The next stop in my father’s downtown career was Carpenter’s Pharmacy. They also had a counter with stools. I remember being told that soup was a popular lunch time item. For me, it was all about the ice cream! I used to stop in after school with my friends for either an ice cream soda or sundae. The “Telephone Sundae” was a popular choice. Helen Carpenter Kinsman, whose father owned the store, told me that it probably got its name from the women telephone operators who frequented the soda fountain. It was basically a hot fudge sundae known by a “local name.” I remember my friends and I didn’t have the best of manners. A clerk told us that we sounded like “pigs” as we slurped to get everything off the bottom of our ice cream soda glasses.

My father also had a short stint at McClallen’s Pharmacy on Merchants Row before he ended his career across the street at Beauchamp & O’Rourke Pharmacy. The lunch counter at McClallen’s was a family affair. Store owners, Charlie and Winnie McClallen, were both pharmacists. Their sons helped to make sandwiches for the lunch counter before going to school.

Carroll Cut Rate, which was located next door to Carpenter’s, didn’t have a lunch counter but they were well known for their beauty department, run by Mrs. Samuel Sherman. The Shermans were proprietors of the store and it was another family affair, as their sons also worked there. This store was the closest to today’s chain pharmacies, as you could get your prescription filled and shop for multiple types of items while you were in there.

Since all the pharmacies were located in downtown Rutland it was common for the stores to supply one another with a prescription item if they ran out. I remember when my mother and I picked up my father after work he would often stop at someone’s home to drop off a prescription. I guess today that would be under the category of “performs other duties as required”!

I learned the act of kindness from my dad. He always took time to visit with the person he was delivering to, as they were elderly and often alone.

Looking back on those days brings back happy memories but it also makes me want a “Telephone Sundae.” Oh well, I don’t need the calories anyway.

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