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The Pharmacy Soda Fountain

By Courtney Phillips

Long before drive-thru food chains and online prescription refill, independently-owned pharmacies with soda fountains were cornerstones of small town America.

In the 1800s, naturally carbonated water became popular for medicinal uses as well as the chief ingredient in the newly-invented soda beverage. Difficult and expensive to transport, this precious commodity could only be found in local pharmacies. Pharmacy soda fountains quickly populated the country, giving townspeople a place to gather and socialize during the years of Prohibition and keeping aloft many small, struggling pharmacies during the Great Depression. Born of necessity and working in concert with guaranteed pharmacy foot traffic, the soda fountain captured customers of every socioeconomic status by offering affordable food and drink choices. Business boomed until a decline in the 1960s, due to the advent of drive-in and eventually drive-thru restaurants. Though nearly obsolete, Fayetteville still boasts two. This rare treasure of Americana is found within Bordeaux Drug Company. There is also a soda fountain at Massey Hill Drug Company on Southern Avenue.

John Tew, manager of Lilly’s Snack Shop and son of its namesake, attributed the shop’s nearly 50 year life span to a loyal customer base and great quality. Amid the ever-changing business landscape of our “All-America City,” Tew noted that the snack shop, which is operated independently of and leased from Bordeaux Drug Company, is now catering to a third generation of loyal customers. “Sometimes we have time to sit and talk with customers and really get to know them. I’ll ask them about their family and they’ll do the same. You won’t get that at a fast food restaurant,” Tew said proudly.

Owner of Bordeaux Drug Company, Alec Clelland, proclaimed that Lilly’s Snack Shop conducts business in the same family oriented manner as the drug store, operated by Clelland’s daughters Susan Hinkamp, chief pharmacist, and Jane Russell. It’s one of the many reasons why customers continue to choose Lilly’s rather than the convenience of a drive-thru. Tew said, “Our chicken and egg salads are prepared fresh daily, folks come in to eat those every day. Cheeseburgers and hot dogs are staples. We have hand-dipped milkshakes.” He continued, “In the winter months, homemade vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches are our most popular items.” Tew noted that fresh-squeezed orangeade and lemonade are always in demand, no matter the season. “Most days, we have 10 to 15 call-in lunch orders from Cape Fear Valley Hospital. Some patients will send a family member over to the shop specifically for our orangeade. I don’t know what it is about it, but they like it!”

Tew said that in addition to long-time customers and call-in orders, shopping center traffic also has an effect on their customer flow. All of the Bordeaux Center shops depend on each other for business. “If the grocery store has a busy day, we might too!” On operating a private lunch counter in competition with franchise giants, Tew acknowledged a frustrating struggle, “You make enough money to pay the bills, but that’s all. Remodeling and updating are impossible.”

Fortunately, the air of charming nostalgia brought about by the endearing fixtures of the snack shop, right down to the handwritten “Cash Only” sign, is undeniable.

“We always say we are one of Fayetteville’s best-kept secrets,” said Tew. Some people come into the snack shop on a friendly recommendation that at Lilly’s, they will find “the best cheeseburger they’ll ever eat.” Tew maintained that the most rewarding part of his job is when he has “the opportunity to prove those customers right.”

Lilly’s Snack Shop is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Don’t forget cash!