THE HISTORY OF PICKLER’S FAMOUS & THE AMERICAN SODA FOUNTAIN
(in about 475 words or less)
“The customer comes in from the hot, dusty life of the street and the sight of the beautiful marble, the shining fixtures and ornaments, the polite and obliging dispenser, all in the purity of perfect cleanliness, gives him a feeling of rest and luxury.”–19th Century account of an old-time soda fountain
Back in the day, the soda fountain was a way of life. It was where we socialized, where we killed time, where we drank soda.
The origins of the American soda fountain, believe it or not, go back to the Civil War era. Pharmacies at the time began serving carbonated water, touting its “medicinal benefits.” The growing legions of soda-sippers developed a sweet tooth as flavors were offered with the water. So it was no surprise when they began serving ice cream, too.
Over time, the soda fountain became a respectable gathering place in big cities and small towns. Tables were set up for games. Some had player pianos and even (seriously) group singing.
We’re not sure if the original Pickler’s Famous had a player piano — or a soda fountain for that matter. But it might have had a candy counter. The heyday of this “highly successful mercantile store” was back in the 1880s and 1890s, so accounts are sketchy.
You can learn more about the store’s founder, Samuel M. Pickler, here.
Kirksville’s most-popular soda fountain was Pete’s Candyland, which opened on the town square in 1931. For more than three decades, customers devoured such treats as Heavenly Hash ice cream, freshly squeezed limeade and handmade candy while enjoying the sounds of (NOSTALGIA ALERT) Guy Lombardo, the Ames Brothers and Elvis. Pete’s also served homemade sandwiches and soup to a dedicated lunchtime crowd. It closed in 1963 when its namesake, owner Pete Kachulis, retired.
Most other soda fountains closed down, too, as Americans’ love affair with the automobile blossomed. Many believe the lure of drive-ins and fast-food stands was a factor in the fountain’s demise. Today, only a few remain, scattered across the country.
THE SWEET REWARD FOR HARD WORK
Joining that select few wasn’t easy. After we moved into 114 W. Harrison, we had some work to do before we could start scooping ice cream.
You see, the building is about 120 years old. Since the original Pickler’s Famous closed, it’s housed everything from a furniture business to a Radio Shack and a drug store. It had a wee bit of wear and tear. How much? Let’s put it this way: One trip to Home Depot wasn’t gonna cut it. So in August 2008, we began an extensive renovation project with a little help from a lot of folks.
Check out the Pickler’s Famous renovation blog to learn more about the project. We think you’ll agree that all the work was worth it.
By the end of our first year in business, we had screened first-run movies daily, served countless people, and concocted universally-acclaimed homemade ice cream and phosphates.
During that time, we also cycled endlessly through a variety of food options and could never quite settle on something we were happy with. You can either chalk it up to our steadfast refusal to install fryers and do the “same old same old” that our neighbors were doing; or our complete ineptness as chefs. In any case, we learned that food portion of our menu wasn’t exactly bringing in glowing reviews.
For reasons we have yet to pinpoint, we also struggled to get the level of traffic through the door that we had hoped for. Ice cream sales remained strong, but ice cream alone was not going to carry the expenses of doing business without a two-fold increase in traffic.
By the end of 2011, we faced the hard truth that we needed to drastically change our business model to stay afloat and remain a viable resource for the community.
In December 2011, we closed down the soda fountain and ice cream parlor and ended our relationship with our film distributor, retooling ourselves as an event & catering venue.
And we haven’t looked back since. More than 5 years later, we continue to be the classiest and most unique venue for a hundred miles. We’ve hosted wedding receptions, formal banquets, dances, birthday parties, reunions, graduation parties….you name it, and we’ve probably done it. All with smiles on our faces and that original spirit of bringing something unique to the small-town community.
Go ahead and give us a call or email today and make your next event a one-of-a-kind!