Everything old is new again, at L & R Soda Fountain in Elkton
Warning: This story may bring back memories. (Fortunately, they will all be good.)
Back in the day, going to the local soda fountain was a treat for young and old alike. Milkshakes made with real ice cream, fruit-flavored sodas mixed with carbonated water and even a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Many soda fountains served cheeseburgers, fries and other short-order favorites.
Kenny Clayton and his wife, Heather, are pharmacists who purchased Weathers Drugs in 1999 and ran the business for 20 years. But there was another dream brewing that even Kenny didn’t realize until he uncovered the original pharmacy cabinets from 1875 stored in the second floor of the pharmacy.
“My dad (Ray) always talked about running a soda foundation,” Kenny recalls. “My mother and father met at a dairy dip. We had a soda foundation in the basement when I was growing up; Dad collected old soda signs.”
Kenny later bought the store next door to the pharmacy, transformed it into a vintage soda fountain, and named it L & R Soda Fountain after his two daughters, Lauren and Rachel. The soda fountain, served by Pennyrile Electric, has the original tin ceiling and a vintage soda fountain with its marble countertop and back bar—and it proudly displays the original vintage pharmacy cabinets from Weathers Drugs.
L & R Soda Fountain was named after the Clayton’s daughters, Rachel, left, and Lauren. Photo: L & R Soda Fountain
After Kenny retired from Weathers Drugs in 2018, he still kept the soda fountain open. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit the following year and the fountain was forced to close for an entire year.
During that time, the Claytons and the community created the nonprofit Todd County Foundation, which took ownership of the soda fountain. All profits from the business now go to the foundation, which helps the city maintain its small-town appeal and draws people to the city’s downtown from all over the state.
The L & R Soda Fountain is unique due to the fixtures and history of Weathers Drugs, the correlation of drugstore and soda fountain, and its representation of small town America. The Todd County Foundation was developed so the soda fountain can operate for many years to come with the same values and to help support the community.
“L & R Soda Fountain stays full,” General Manager John Milkowski says. “It seats about 75 people and includes a full-blown restaurant with hamburgers, soups, salads, wraps, chicken, even rib-eye steaks. It is famous for its wraps.” (Get the recipe!)
“If soda water is still flowing from the vintage goose-neck spigots and milkshakes are being served in a fountain glass with a cheeseburger for years to come, that will be tremendous,” says Kenny, who sits on the foundation board. “There are very few soda fountains left in the world. At the same time, L & R Soda Fountain can make Elkton a destination place and a better community.
“I want it to work for the county. People say, ‘There’s the soda fountain guy.’ I love that. Everybody has a story about the L&R Soda Fountain. I want desperately for that to continue.”
L&R Soda Fountain, 44 Public Square, (270) 265-2165, is open from 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
DEBRA GIBSON ISAACS writes about how co-op members and staff contributed to their communities.