Many of us are well familiar with the drive up U.S. 501 to either Chapel Hill or Durham. It is a lovely drive until the urban traffic descends upon you near Chapel Hill.
Before that there is Pittsboro, and it is worth a stop.
It is a trip back in time, nostalgia, a different era when life was simple and service was paramount, and in a way it got started when George Pilkington left Manchester, England in 1880.
You see, Mr. Pilkington became a druggist in Pittsboro and operated a successful pharmacy and soda fountain until his death in 1944. Later it reopened as Upchurch Soda Shoppe until 1962, and then it was doomed to new changes.
In 1996 Gene and Vickie Oldham bought the building and began renovations. By October 1997 it was ready to open and was named “S & T Soda Shoppe” in honor of their sons: Steve and T. J.
Along the way they bought mahogany furniture from other old drug stores, and restored. Other items were simply built to match the period.
S & T Soda Shoppe sits beside Roy Underwood of the PBS program “The Wood Wright’s Shop” on U.S. 501 in downtown Pittsboro. Roy’s shop teaches wood working using only tools used over a century ago, and Gene and Vickie will take you back to that era if you visit them.
We’ve stopped several times before, but one personal trip was different. While my wife, Lynn, had concluded her medically induced 36-hour fast with sweet tea, a chicken salad sandwich, and an ice cream sundae, I walked around the soon-to-be- crowded shop, looking closely at the antiques, and then started talking to Gene Oldham. Of course before we met Gene we were met, welcomed, and chatted with his wife, Vickie. If there is ever a graceful, hard-working hostess, she is it!
Gene wanted to know where I was from, and I replied, “Laurinburg!” not really expecting him to know where that was.
“I’ve got two drug store antiques next door in my office from a drug store in Laurinburg,” he said.
We walked next door where the past came to life once more. Before me were two RX-colored vases that were from the Laurinburg drug store. Also in there were old toys from the 1940s and 1950s that had been fully restored along with a number of restored Coke and Pepsi machines from the same era. After hearing a wee bit of history on the various items, he locked up and walked next door to visit Roy Underwood. Unfortunately, Roy wasn’t in.
I asked Gene what was the biggest success of his business, and he replied: “Repeat customers.”
“We have the same people coming by on a regular basis from over 50 miles away, and others like yourself make us their stop when passing through. We’d never make it on just ice cream, and our dinners and sandwiches are our big items.”
Maybe so, but everyone I saw was enjoying ice cream for dessert!
Back in S & T Soda Shoppe, the lunch time crowd was arriving and began lining up. I finished a ham sandwich and tall glass of ice tea, but not before being prompted to try an ice cream dessert. I chose to try something different than my childhood favorite of a float of ice cream and Coke. I had a float of ice cream and Pepsi, but Gene suggested that I try an Orange Crush over ice cream the next time.
You can’t help but notice the small white hexagon ceramic tiles on the floor, the patterned tin ceilings, and the massive antique cabinets, the glasses, mugs, bowls, etc. for serving their famous ice cream concoctions.
Oh, yes — for the Yankees, they even make the New York Egg Cream.
Their menu reflects a local flavor with sandwiches named: Old Pittsboro Pimento Cheese, Historic Heroes, Steve’s Gambler, Hillsboro Street Burger, Mebane Cheeseburger, Vicky’s Double Cheeseburger, Jenna’s Veggie Sandwich, etc. Salads as well: Antique Alley Salad, Catherine’s Cranberry Pecan Salad, Bankers Chicken or Tuna Salad, etc.
Of course if it can be made with ice cream or is considered a frozen concoction, they raise their creations to a new level.
You owe it to yourself to stop by. They are opened Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Vicky, Gene, and their family will make sure that it is a memorable experience.
Beacham McDougald is president of McDougald Funeral Home and Crematorium in Laurinburg. He serves as vice chair of the Scotland County Highland Games, on the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and is the founder and liaison of the Scotland High School-Oban High School student exchange program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.