Phones buzzing, cars honking, schedules beckoning — switch off the notifications, belly up to the counter, and indulge yourself with a treat and a story of the past.
Fox’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain in Raytown has been in the Fox family since 1953. Lowe’s Soda Fountain has been an icon of Blue Springs since 1887. Tales abound from the owners and the fountain itself.
Nancy Lyon is the main event at Fox’s. She works the long, speckled laminate counter, serving customers queued on red stools. Behind Lyon sits a shiny, chrome industrial sink, freezer and grill from 1953. An enthralled audience watches as Lyon artfully tops a limeade with sherbet while explaining her new soda concoction called a “cherry bomb.”
Lyon serves up a chocolate malt by saying, “It’s healthy as long as you get a diet coke on the side.” Then she spins around and asks a regular if they need more coke in their float to keep the right cream-to-soda ratio. All the while ‘50s music pours from behind the counter carbonating the atmosphere.
A three-spout Hamilton Beach mixer from 1953 sits on the counter. Lyon claims it is far better than newer mixers, calling it a sturdy chunk of metal. The new ones are built light and when they are revved up, “They jump around on the counter,” she said.
She lugs the ‘50s mixer to the other side of the counter for closer examination, flexing her muscles, which, she said, she earned them working the counter “trying to keep the Fox’s alive.”
Gary Fox, the current Fox owner, is Lyon’s brother-in-law. Nancy Lyon along with her mom, daughter and granddaughters is a part of the four generations of Lyon girls that have worked the pharmacy and soda fountain.
Come lunchtime, Lyon cooks up everything from egg salad and grilled cheese sandwiches to “chili dawgs.” The chili recipe is the same one that the soda fountain has served since opening.
But the counter is not just for eating, it becomes a social network. The layout invites customers to chat with their neighbor. Lyon recounts a story of two customers discovering they were from the same small town. In an old-fashioned soda fountain, the world shrinks — someone’s story becomes your story too.
If Fox’s is the place that keeps toes tapping and eyes darting to keep up with Lyon, Lowe’s is the place to lay back and listen to a story.
Clay Swope runs Lowe’s Soda Fountain, a joint jumbled with odd treasures — a cuckoo clock here, a carousel horse there and a 15-foot shark hanging on the wall.
Swope collects the odds and ends from various flea markets and estate sales. Every collectible has a tale. “I’ve always liked junk and other unique things,” Swope says, as he methodically builds a banana split.
He lays out the antique glass tray, forms three perfect scoops of ice cream, spoons on fruit toppings, lines the creation with whipped cream, and sprinkles with pecans. He places a cherry on top like a master architect precariously placing the last stone. This classic banana split is a popular trademark of the 130-year-old fountain.
The relic that appears to have been here since the start is a large, blue contraption that makes shaved ice. Swope places a circular chunk of ice on the machine and it cranks out flakes as fine as snow. A little cherry syrup splashed on top and a snow cone from grandma’s story about a Saturday trip to the drugstore with five cents in her pocket comes to life.
Swope said he keeps the old vibes alive because he “likes to keep it simple.”
Next to the cold treats on the counter is a tabletop jukebox. Swope puts a quarter in the shiny chrome box, punches B7 on the number pad, and smiles as “Okie from Muskogee” softly rolls out of the full-sized jukebox in the back of the room.
Looking across the Lowe’s interior, work-in-progress jigsaw puzzles dot card tables, summoning customers to take a seat, add a piece and start a conversation. “The old coffee guys still get together in the place once a week to play a penny-a-point game of dominos,” Swope said. Swope tells Lowe’s story with a languid melody while Lyon gives Fox’s a cadence of staccato.
In Kansas City’s old-fashioned soda fountains, stories from the past and the present are blended into a malt and upon the first sip, time slips away altogether. All that remains is the story.^
Words Lauren Berndt
Photos Susan Berndt
Fox’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain
10004 E 63rd St.
Mon.-Sat., 11 am-4 pm
Lowe’s Soda Fountain
1112 W. Main St.
Blue Springs, MO
Wed.-Fri., 1-6 pm
Monroe’s Pharmacy (with a small soda fountain counter)
412 N. Pennsylvania
Mon.-Fri., 8 am-6 pm, Sat., 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
Clinton’s Soda Fountain (where Harry S. Truman held his first job as a clerk at the pharmacy and ice cream shop)
100 W. Maple
Mon.-Sat., 11 am-6 pm
Mugs Up Diner
(floats, malts, shakes)
700 E 23rd
Mon.-Sat., 10:30 am-8 pm