FOLEY – As soon as you walk through the doors of Stacey’s Olde Tyme soda fountain, you’re transported to a simpler time. The days when a cup of coffee cost 10 cents and you could sit down and talk about life and politics with your neighbour. There was always a familiar face and a soda with a smile.
Little has changed in nearly 100 years at the corner of West Laurel Avenue and North Alston Street. You can still get a cup of coffee for 10 cents, and there’s a row of hats honoring those who passed.
Of course, the soda fountain and the ice cream shop didn’t start as such. It used to be a pharmacy, a place to get the necessary medicine for “what ails you”. The pharmacy part of the business closed in 2020, but the owner was determined to keep the doors open one way or another.
Burke Langham, Jr. purchased Stacey’s in August 2003. The pharmacist decided to own his own independent pharmacy after working for other chains for more than 20 years. He said that after retiring from the Army Reserve and as a father to his sons, he knew it would be best for his family to go into business on their own.
“I arrived and started working here, and now we’ve been here ever since,” Langham said. “It gave me the opportunity to leave early and have a few Sundays off. When I was working in the channel environment, we didn’t have a lot of free time and our boys were small. I wanted to have a family life.
Langham said the small-town pharmacy that’s been around since the 1920s reminds him of a place in his hometown of Chickasaw, Alabama. He was grateful when former Foley mayor Arthur Holk gave him the opportunity to lease the building and continue to operate the pharmacy.
Although he knows how to run a drugstore, Langham said the soda fountain part was a challenge at first.
“It’s a little more difficult than I thought,” he recalls. “Some former employees stuck around and showed me how. You have to learn to do different things. There are phosphates, there are sodas, there are egg creams and lemonades and all those things you have to know how to do.
The building was built in 1923 and is still full of some of the original wooden fixtures. Some have been restored, but the “yesterday” feeling is still an offering of the historic space.
Adding to the building’s history is a row of “Stacey’s Curmudgeons” hats. These old men who came to the store to meet and commune with each other are commemorated with hats displaying their names and the years they passed.
“We started with about 10 of them,” Langham recalls. “They would come in and talk politics at eight in the morning and have their coffee. They were screaming at each other and going crazy and carrying on. Over time they let new people in, but sometimes they wouldn’t let you into their little group. But then they started to die. They were in their eighties. It gave them something to do.
Langham said there were only a few surviving curmudgeons, but they couldn’t meet at Stacey’s these days.
In addition to the Curmudgeons hats, overhead you can see and hear the old electric train. It moves on its track just below the ceiling all day, every day. The funny thing, says Langham, is that the regulars at his store get used to what they know, and this old train is an example of that.
“The previous owners bought it in 1990,” Langham said. “I took it and twirled it the other way, and people get pissed off. They don’t want to change anything. »
One thing that hasn’t changed is an employee who has been there for over three decades. Robert Averitt came to work at Stacey in 1991 after retiring from Riviera Utilities.
“It was fun,” Averitt said. “It’s the atmosphere. People like to come here and it’s a fun place.
In 2019, things went wrong at the pharmacy. Although they had a lot of customers, Langham was forced to make a difficult decision because insurance companies poorly reimbursed independent pharmacies. Langham said that when he turned 65, he felt it was time to close the pharmacy. So, in February 2020, the pharmaceutical part of the business closed.
“It just didn’t seem like there was much of a future,” Langham said. “I said, ‘If anything happens to me at this point, my wife will have nothing.
“It was hard to close something that, at that time, I had been working on for more than 18 years or so. It was hard for us. We had a lot of people calling us. It was emotional. It was hard to do.”
Langham said he hopes to continue operating the soda fountain. He always goes to work early in the morning and works close every night. In the meantime, it replaces other pharmacies in the region on a part-time basis. His son, Burke Langham, III, who grew up around Stacey’s, still works there from time to time. He said he was grateful for his experiences at the old store.
“I like it,” he said. “I plan to continue for as long as possible. How long, I don’t know, but that’s my plan.
The soda fountain offers more than soda and 24 flavors of ice cream. It also serves sandwiches including fresh chicken salad, hot dogs, burgers and chili cheese sandwiches.
“We’re as busy as ever in the soda fountain, so we’re happy with that,” Langham said.
Stacey’s Olde Tyme Soda Fountain is located at 121 W Laurel Avenue, Foley. You can call the store at (251) 943-7191.
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