By Alyssa King
Blake Pharmacy is home to one of the few remaining soda fountains in Ohio. On Jan. 1, 1961, C. Robert Blake bought a storefront in West Union, and with it came a soda fountain. In 1968 he built a pharmacy next door and moved the soda fountain inside. That same year Blake Pharmacy opened its doors to the people of Adams County.
In the 1950s, soda fountains were common additions to pharmacies throughout the U.S. They typically consisted of a counter lined with barstools. Behind this counter an attendant called a soda jerk would serve customers soda, ice cream or a light lunch.
In the U.S., pharmacies had soda fountains as early as the 1880s. According to Reid Paul’s article, “The rise and fall of the pharmacy soda fountain,” published by Drug Topics, 75 percent of the pharmacies in the U.S. had soda fountains by 1929.
In her book, Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains, Anne Cooper Funderburg attributed several factors to the decline of fountains in pharmacies, including the rise of suburbia. When Americans began buying cars and moving to suburbs, they were no longer in walking distance of soda fountains and found more convenient places for treats, such as drive-in restaurants.
Soda fountains made pharmacies community staples; they were places of social gatherings. In the 1970s, C. Robert Blake was the mayor of West Union and held weddings at the soda fountain. Blake Pharmacy is currently owned by Robert (Bob) Blake, who purchased it from his father in 2000.
“I’ve been in here since I was old enough to walk. I’ve been on the payroll since 1969,” Bob says. He has worked in the pharmacy for nearly 50 years, 32 of which he has served as a pharmacist.
Though most are loyal locals, Blake Pharmacy’s customers come from all over the world to sit at the soda fountain. Teresa Freeman has worked the soda fountain for more than 10 years. In 2009 she began keeping a binder for out of town guests to sign. Guests from England, Japan, France and Germany have all sat at the barstools that line the original fountain.
“Almost everybody is friendly and happy that we still have the old soda fountain. People who used to come in with their grandparents are now bringing their kids and grandchildren. It brings back the memories to people,” Freeman says.
For tourists, the appeal of the fountain may go beyond nostalgia. Holding onto 1960s prices, the fountain still sells glasses of Coca-Cola for a nickel. Bob says that the most popular lunch includes a ham salad sandwich and bag of chips for $1.25 or a 16-ounce milkshake for $1.
For community members, Blake Pharmacy is more than a place to pick up a prescription or stop for an affordable lunch. The pharmacy supports the town’s Boy and Girl Scouts, athletic teams and gives away Cincinnati Reds tickets to customers.
“I love the Reds and the Bengals. We always give away a set of Reds tickets every month during the summer at each one of the stores. People like that,” Bob says.
In 1976, a second pharmacy location opened in Peebles, and a decade later a third opened in Manchester. However, Bob spends most of his time at the original pharmacy in West Union, the only location with a soda fountain.
In a time when convenience is valued over tradition, Blake Pharmacy is holding on to simpler days and has no plans of changing.
Blake Pharmacy’s West Union location is located at 206 North Market Street and is open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. The soda fountain is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and is closed Sundays.