Mantua – A soda fountain in a building with a railroad theme, complete with caboose in front. What does it all mean? Probably it means that, if there was a train station, then there likely was a diner nearby (diners frequently had soda fountains). Possibly nostalgia is tied heavily to these two different themes and putting them together is one way of saving both. We know from prior investigation that soda fountains were originally attached to pharmacies from the beginning because, way back when, soda water was thought to have medicinal properties. Later, flavorings began to be added to disguise the terrible taste of various medicines procured at the pharmacy. But what is the railroad connection? Is there a railroad connection? Other than the obvious—that Mantua was a stop on the railroad thus a railroad town—were soda fountains placed in Railway stations? Note to self……Must do some more investigation on that, as there appears to be no obvious connection.
One of the two soda fountains that are still in existence in our readership area is in the front of the store at Mantua Station Drugs on Rt. 44 opposite the High School. Co-owner Norm Sadowski says that they had it installed when they built the building. It originally came from Quaker Square in Akron when they were renovating. According to Norm, ‘The Quaker Square people didn’t know what they were going to do with it; we made a bid on it and they sold it to us lock stock and barrel. I felt that, historically, pharmacies had soda fountains and we wanted to preserve that historic, antique quality in our new pharmacy. To be sure it is not exactly a profit maker, but for history’s sake we wanted to have it as part of our store. We’ve gone through three of the old coke machines. When the parts wear out, we can’t get new parts, so we have to find a newer machine to replace it. A few days ago the antique milk shake mixer bit the dust. We had to put in a modern one. If I find another antique one, though, I’ll pick it up!”
The soda fountain history in Mantua goes back to before Mantua Station Drugs. Historically, there was a drug store in town across from the old post office on Prospect Street. Bob Zoller, the owner, had a soda fountain. Bob passed away in 1994. Bill Zoller, Bob’s son, noted that Bob opened the store on August 13, 1955, and it was called the Mantua Pharmacy. The newspaper advertising of the day flashed, “Complete prescriptions, tobacco, cameras, candy First Aid needs”, and “New Self Service”. It also flashed out “Visit our soda fountain specializing in Borden’s Ice Cream”. The ads were followed by the words “Immediately, Accurately, and Economically”. I assume that those words referred to the pharmaceuticals but hey, maybe people wanted a soda immediately, accurately and economically too. Previous to that Bob had owned Hoard’s Pharmacy in Kent, sold it in 1952, and then bought Triangle Pharmacy in Ravenna. While driving through Mantua on the way to a fishing trip at Punderson he correctly reckoned that this would be a great place to open a new pharmacy. Though there was a small drug store already in existence, it carried little inventory and often had to rely on Bob at Triangle in Ravenna to fill prescriptions.
The soda fountain that was installed in Zoller’s then – new pharmacy in 1955 came out of an Akron Hospital when they were remodeling. “It was a five stool soda fountain, or was it a six? I’ll have to think on that” say Zoller. According to son Bill, “A lot of stories were passed over that fountain. A lot of the history that I heard about Mantua, I heard as a young person in the soda fountain. I worked there ever since I was old enough to see over the counter, worked after school, after sports. I was the oldest of the Zoller children. I worked the soda fountain. Even after I began working in the trucking industry I would take my kids there on a Sunday and get them what they wanted. Usually when they spent time with grandma and grandpa I was out washing the windows on the store. We used to sell Borden’s Ice cream—good stuff!! We had those Stewart infrared sandwiches when they first came out– that was a big seller.” (Stewart Sandwiches were an early attempt at fast food. They were precooked, frozen, then warmed up by infrared lights in the little oven and served to you usually in about 2-3 minutes. It wasn’t quite like hot off the grill, but they were popular. They had a distinctive taste probably peculiar to infrared heating. I remember them from Aurora Lake when I worked there in the 1960’s). “I’ve got the old soda fountain cash register out in the garage”, he says. “Someday I’ll have it restored and put it down in my rec room”. Bob Zoller retired in 1978 and sold the Pharmacy to Norm Sadowski and Rick Wiggers.
According to Norm, “We built the new place and had the soda fountain installed up front. Though it is not exactly a great money maker it is a show piece of the store and the community. On Sunday after church, people would bring their kids in for a cherry coke—a treat. Evelyn Benner frequently comes to the counter and orders a caramel shake. When we first opened the store, a guy would bring his 80 year old father in on Sundays to have a soda. He would sit and spin on the seats and say, “Well, that’s what we would do in the old days. Why not do it now?”
Not all the employees are skilled at running the soda fountain. Emily Sadowsky generally works the fountain except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Terry Wakefield is the soda fountain’s other designated person. “We currently sell Velvet ice cream which is made in Ohio”, she says. “We have chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and the usual sundae toppings and can make anything you ask for. We have the typical root beer floats, coke floats, black cows, and Boston Coolers– a Boston Cooler is ginger ale mixed with ice cream. Sarsaparilla is pronounced saspirella. There is a difference between saspirella, root beer and birch beer. (She gave me some samples, and believe me, there is a difference. I did not care for the Birch Beer—it has a really sharp taste much more powerful than root beer.) Norm pipes up, “Mr. Hires was a pharmacist. One day he walking through town and noticed a type of dirt that was being dug up at a construction site and it seemed to take the stains off clothes. He marketed it and used the profits to develop his Hires root beer formula. If you taste the different root beers you will notice distinct differences. A & W is more creamy and frothy while Hires is not.”
If you have memories, stories, pictures of some of the soda fountains that no longer exist please call me, mail me at THE VILLAGER, 8088 Main Street, Garrettsville 44231. E-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com or give me a call at 330-562-9801. I’d like to hear from you and include these in our Soda Fountain feature.