The sun is setting in Washington County, Alabama. The gnats are out. You can hear crickets downtown. This place is a fleck of ketchup on the map.
It’s something else.
I’m at the Courthouse Drugstore. This is a real soda fountain. Marble counters. Knee-high barstools, vinyl cushions. I’m eating a sandwich that tastes exactly like shaking hands with the Risen Savior. I forget which decade I’m in.
Miss Penny sits beside me. She’s got gray hair. Feisty. She smokes a vaporizing cigarette that smells like butterscotch and Lysol.
“Sixty years ago,” Penny says. “Folks used’a come here to drink Ko-Cola floats, they'd watch people get off at the train depot. It was something else.”
Not much has changed here—except there’s no train anymore. People are rural. Some folks drive seventy-five miles to Mobile for groceries.
“After the drugstore shut down,” says Miss Penny. “Only place to get a milkshake was your own kitchen. It was something else.”
The Courthouse Drugstore reopened last November. The town threw a party. Washington County showed up to christen it.
For nearly four decades, the
building sat vacant—complete with overgrown parking lot and plywood windows.
This restoration was no business venture. It was a resurrection.
“Chatom's in my blood,” says Holly, who restored the drugstore. “My ancestors founded this town, least I can do is try to keep it going for my kids.”
So, she reopened the landmark. Chatom’s soda fountain is a one-of-a-kind, even for the Old South.
Out-of-town visitors have already been coming to see it. Not long ago, tourists from Germany stopped by to experience the authentic American tradition. They ate chicken salad. It was something else.
Tiffany keeps the place running. She says, “I make chicken salad the old-fashioned way. The other day I tore apart seventy-five pounds of chicken by hand. Worked so hard, I strained a muscle in my neck.”
In the short time I visit, the place is…