Old Fashioned Fun
Richard “Rick” Mueller remembers going into the Wells Drug Store in the 1950s when he was a kid, and ordering an ice cream treat at the soda fountain right inside the front door of the store.
In 1974, he and his wife Nancy bought the store, complete with the soda fountain. Mueller has been the pharmacist there ever since, and the soda fountain is still there as well.
“Oh, we would never shut down the soda fountain,” Mueller said. “We have no plans to do that.”
It is one of the few operating soda fountains in drug stores left in the state of Minnesota. Mueller said that he has been told there are only a handful left in the country. “At one time a lot of drug stores had them,” he said. Wells had another drug store for many years, and it too had a soda fountain in it.
The fountain in the Wells Drug Store has been there for a long time, 93 years. It was put into the store in about 1915. “At that time it had a large display area of tobacco products next to it,” Mueller said. “There were also a lot of booths and tables in front of it.” Those have been replaced with shelves of gift items for sale.
It also had a full soda bar, and lots of fancier ice cream treats back then. They still serve a variety of ice cream, shakes and malts, and still can make a cherry coke for you at the soda fountain.
“The fountain area was remodeled back in 1945,” Mueller said. “Most of what is in here is either original or else is from 1945.” That includes the actual chrome soda fountain dispensers, the counter, and the stools.
Cindy Prange had been the manager of the soda fountain for 20 years. “We get a lot of people in here everyday,” she said. “It’s a gathering place for the community.” She said most people have coffee and toast in the morning, and they talk about everything. “And I mean everything.” Mueller said the regulars talk over the news and try to solve the world’s problems.
In the afternoon it is full as well, with a lot of ice cream being served. They have sundaes, sodas, floats, malts, cappuccino and hot chocolate. That is besides the standbys of a dish or cone of ice cream, coffee and fountain pop. “The only food we serve is toast, cheese toast, and cookies, besides ice cream,” Prange said.
There are always a couple of high school kids who work in the soda fountain helping out. Kelsey Becker, a sophomore at USC, started there last summer. Britney Schulz from Maple River has been there three years. “It took me five or six tries at making a malt before I got it right,” Becker said. Prange agreed, “There is definitely an art to making a malt right – it can’t be too thick or too thin.”
Judy Rosin, an employee at the drug store for 27 years, also can help out in the fountain area. But mainly she and Nancy work in the gift and decorating area of the store, and Prange and the younger girls run the fountain.
“I just love it,” said Becker. “I get to visit with people and make ice cream treats.” Last week Wednesday she was doing a lot of both. On Wednesday after school there is a dance class on main street and all the girls come into the drug store to get ice cream after dance class.
So does anyone call them ‘soda jerks?’ “I hear that every once in a while,” Prange said. “They have also called me the ‘mean, lean queen of the soda fountain machine’ before too.”
Becker said she had never heard the term ‘soda jerk’ before, but said she wouldn’t mind it. “This is just the best place to work,” she said, as she filled one more dish of ice cream for another happy customer.