There are times when I wish Huntsville still had a drugstore. Early last month I had a severe cold. I had to go all the way to the grocery store (which is on the edge of town) just to get any kind of medication at all. It would have been a lot easier if we still had a drugstore downtown.
Huntsville did have a drugstore when I was very, very young. It was an old time drug store, complete with a soda fountain against one wall and the pharmacists' counter in back. The soda fountain served soda (naturally), ice cream, ice cream floats, and other such treats. And like most old time drug stores, it didn't just sell drugs. They sold candy, bubble gum and assorted other things. I seem to remember there being a comic book rack as well. Unfortunately, the drugstore burned either when I was in first or second grade. They moved to another building downtown shortly after that. At the new location they didn't have a soda fountain. I also seem to recall that they didn't stay open long at the new location, although I don't know if the abscence of the fountain had any effect on that...
Soda fountains were a fixture of drug stores before the Seventies. In fact, for those of you too young to remember soda fountains in drug stores, Gower's Drugstore in It's a Wonderful Life looked pretty typical for a drug store before the Seventies. In fact, there was a time when a drugstore would look positively empty without a soda fountain. And while many drug stores did away with the fountains in the Sixties and Seventies, Burton's in Moberly maintained their soda fountain well into the Nineties. In fact, they served sandwiches and hamburgers in addition to ice cream and soda. Burton's is still open, although I don't know if they still have fountains.
In the United States, the soda fountain has been around in some form since 1819, when a patent for one was granted to Samuel Fahnestock. Since soda was once thought to be healthy for people to drink, it was perhaps natural that drugstores should eventually be equipped with soda fountains. It was in 1903 that both the drugstore and the soda fountain was revolutionised. That year the front-service soda fountain was invented. The front-service soda fountain is the sort that could be seen in drugstores across the country for much of the 20th century. They are still used in fast food restaurants, concession stands, and most any other place that serves over the counter soda. With the invention of the front-service soda fountain, almost no drugstore would be without one.
Unfortunately, times do change and so did the drugstore. Drugstore soda fountains slowly saw their business decline as they lost sales to bottled soda, packaged ice cream (such as one buys in the store), and fast food restaurants. I rather suspect that even if Huntsville's drugstore had not burned, that it would have done away with the soda fountain eventually. I find this sad, as the old drugstores served as gathering places for townsfolk in a way that convenience stores, fast food restaurants, WalMart, and chain drugstores never have. It was a place where one could not just get pharmacy goods, but a place where one could get ice cream, soda, and even the latest comic books.