One of the few traditional soda fountains still around, The Waltz Soda Fountain in downtown Damariscotta turned 70 in August.
The business opened as Waltz Pharmacy in August 1948, in the same building, at 167 Main St., and with a brand-new counter and stools still in use today.
In “the good old days,” a soda fountain was a gathering place in many small towns. Now, Waltz Soda Fountain has become something of a rarity.
Perley Waltz, a pharmacist, started the business and operated his pharmacy and soda fountain for over 50 years. His daughter, Jo-Ann, who grew up in Waldoboro, was his first employee. She started working at the soda fountain when she was 16. Eventually she and her husband, pharmacist Winton “Winty” Jacobs, from Newcastle, took over.
The couple ran the pharmacy until it closed in late 2011. Winty died in 2012, Jo-Ann in 2013.
When the family decided to close the pharmacy, they opted to keep the soda fountain open.
Jo-Ann and Winty’s children, Christie and Dean Jacobs, run the soda fountain today and own the business and the building with the Reny family, their neighbors at Renys Underground.
Christie said their mother was the driving force behind keeping the soda fountain open. “She felt it had been an important place for community gathering since 1948 and hoped that would continue,” Christie said.
The soda fountain closed in December 2012 for renovations. Renys Underground expanded into the space the pharmacy had occupied. The soda fountain reopened in May 2013 with an expanded menu.
“We always sold hot dogs and a few other lunch items, but we have much more now,” Dean said. “I think it’s the least expensive and quickest lunch you can get in town.”
Dean said the business’s top seller is still an old-fashioned frappe. Those and ice cream sodas, malts, banana splits, sundaes, and egg creams are still made the way Jo-Ann taught her staff to make them.
Along with the traditional soda fountain offerings are breakfast sandwiches, freshly made waffles, bagels, and doughnuts from Damariscotta’s Old Time Donuts for breakfast. The lunch menu includes sandwiches, soups, chili, and pizza.
The soda fountain sells takeout meals from local restaurants, a concept it calls Local to Go, conceived by Dean Jacobs and Mary Kate Reny. King Eider’s Pub, Metcalf’s Submarine Sandwiches, and S. Fernald’s Country Store supply sandwiches and soups, as well as other lunch items.
“It’s quick and convenient, and the food is great,” Dean said.
The soda fountain still has regulars who come in daily or weekly. On Nov. 30, Frank Bedell went in for lunch.
“It’s an institution,” Bedell said. “I’ve been waited on here by three generations of the family, starting with Perley Waltz. As a teenager I’d come in and the wealthiest guy in town would be having a discussion with the poorest guy in town. It’s that kind of place.”
“There are people who come in on a regular basis, and if they’re not seen for a few days, we check on them,” Bedell said.
Dean said he loves seeing people come in with their grandchildren. “They’ll sit at the counter and talk about when they were kids and went to soda fountains just like this one,” he said. “This has been a part of the community for a long time and it’s going to continue to be.”
“I love continuing the family tradition of being part of the local community through this small business,” Christie said in an email. “And I’m particularly grateful for the support of our customers that have made the last 70 years possible. It’s a great adventure to be part of and one we hope to continue for a long time to come.”
Dean’s sons, Christopher, 10, who attends Great Salt Bay Community School, and Ben, 17, an alpine racer at Carrabassett Academy, help out behind the counter when they’re not in school.
Waltz Soda Fountain is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter. For more information, call 563-7632.