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A taste of the past

An old fashioned soda fountain lets visitors 'step back in another time'
by: Ellen Spitaleri, Wiley Johnson, 2, and his sister Madison Johnson, 5, slurp up some chocolate milk at Main Street Soda inside the Milwaukie Collectors Mall on Main Street. Their mother, Melanie Johnson, said it was the first time she and the children had eaten at the old-fashioned soda fountain.

Chris Merris believes that 'everybody should experience a soda fountain once in their lives.'

So last November, she and her mother, Darlene Davis, bought the Main Street Collectors Mall in Downtown Milwaukie, and a month later reopened the old-fashioned soda fountain.

Merris graduated from Milwaukie High School in the late '80s, and said she remembers going into what was then the Perry Pharmacy for lunch.

'Now I love it when I see parents or grandparents bringing their kids in and reliving their memories,' she said.

When visitors come to the soda fountain, she added, 'They step back into another time and place.'

Sandwiches, cookies, drinks and more

Davis said her responsibility is mainly overseeing the antiques and collectibles in the main part of the shop, but she helps at the counter when needed and usually bakes the cookies in the morning.

'I like people to walk in and smell coffee and fresh-baked cookies,' she said.

As far as the menu goes, Elaina Forsythe works behind the counter making fresh deli sandwiches and drinks of all kinds.

The soda fountain offers a box lunch special of a sandwich, drink, chips and a cookie for $4, she noted, with a slight change in price for specialty drinks and malts.

Merris said her favorite drink is called a summer girl and consists of 'soda water, vanilla ice cream, orange sherbet and strawberries.'

She figures the soda fountain is one of very few that actually offers phosphates, old-fashioned, hand-poured sodas and flavored cokes, like cherry coke or lemon coke.

Merris and her mother hope that warm summer weather brings out the families who want to sample classic sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, malts and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Clutter enjoyable

As for the collectible portion of the mall, Davis said there are basically two kinds of customers who come in: the browsers and the 'avid' shoppers.

The showcases and floor spaces in the mall contain 'absolutely everything you could possible imagine - it's mind blowing,' Davis said, adding that she can tolerate the clutter and even finds it 'enjoyable.'

Vendors can rent whole or half cases or take up floor space - and Davis even uses space in the bathrooms to show off merchandise.

'We have well over 60 vendors and more than 30 consignees,' she said, who sell a variety of items, including Star Wars memorabilia, knives, vintage jewelry, furniture, clothes, toys, dishware, books and paintings.

Prices are reasonable, she said, and there are actual antiques as well, some dating from the 1800s.

'This is really a family business,' Davis said, noting that 'Chris's children, Ariel, who is 7, sells doll clothes, and Colton, who is 12, has video games for sale.'

Colton also has his food-handlers permit and washes dishes in the evenings, and 'both husbands help.'

Davis did add that all four adults have other 'real' jobs, and she and her daughter hope that eventually the mall will be successful 'to make enough income for two families to live on - that's our main goal.'

• Soda fountain has been a fixture in Milwaukie

The historic building on Main Street began life as a pharmacy, Davis and Merris said, and the soda fountain was a popular feature through the years.

The most recent edition of the City of Milwaukie newsletter states that William Perry opened Perry Pharmacy in 1914, and the spot 'became famous for its soda fountain.'

At some point it became a Rexall drug store, and the fountain continued to be open 'off and on,' Davis said.

'[Previous owners] Tom and Carol bought [the mall] in 1997 and the soda fountain wasn't open full time, but I can remember their son was in high school and it was his after-school job,' Davis said.

The soda fountain was not operating when she and her daughter bought the place last November, so they opened it back up just before Christmas, and the reaction has been positive.

'Almost everyone who walks in here has a story [about the soda fountain],' Davis said.

She added, 'The steady customers are overjoyed and our vendors are overjoyed.'

Her daughter agreed, saying that customers 'remember another time when things weren't so franchised' when they come to the soda fountain.

Merris added, 'We're looking forward to summer coming and meeting new people - this is perfect, this is what I want to do.'

Fast Facts

The Perry Pharmacy opened in 1914, and the owner was William Perry.

Arlie Brown, who came to the Perry Pharmacy in 1959, said he was the part owner of the business in 1974, and then took over as full owner in 1984.

He left the pharmacy in 1998, when new owners took over and turned the site into a collectors mall, he said.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy visited the soda fountain 'when he was on the campaign trail. He sat down and ordered a coke - I shook hands with him,' Brown said.

Brown, who is known as Brownie, currently works as a pharmacist at the Safeway at 42nd and King Road.

He recently took a look at the newly opened soda fountain at Main Street Collectors Mall, and said it 'looked pretty close' to the original.

A soda fountain, he added, 'is one of those things everyone thinks is wonderful.'

LOCATION:

Main Street Collectors Mall and Main Street Soda Fountain; 10909 SE Main, Milwaukie 97222

Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Call 503-659-SODA (7632)