The search for a busi­ness era that is quickly dis­ap­pear­ing

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - Phil Heron Heron’s Nest Philip E. Heron is edi­tor of the Daily Times. Call him at 484-521-3147. E-mail him at edi­tor@del­co­times.com. Make sure you check out his blog, The Heron’s Nest, ev­ery day at http://del­co­heron­snest.blogspot. com. Fol­low him on Twitt

I’m a sucker for small, busi­nesses.

I should know, I’m of one. Two, ac­tu­ally. My fa­ther opened Heron’s Cut Rate in North East, Md., in 1947. It was a clas­sic, old-fash­ioned soda foun­tain and lun­cheonette that also sold a va­ri­ety of pa­tent medicines. It’s still the only place I’ve seen where women could get their “spe­cial need” items wrapped in white apothe­cary paper.

But the star of this store was its soda foun­tain. That’s where my fa­ther cre­ated some­thing called “The Pink Moun­tain.” It con­sists of milk, straw­berry syrup and a dash of soda wa­ter for fizz. Dad, like many at the time, had an inkling that so­das were linked to that great bane of the teen years – zits. He de­cided to come up with a sub­sti­tute. The Pink Moun­tain is still sold in North East to­day.

Heron’s Cut Rate, how­ever, is long gone. But not be­fore it spawned a spinoff. In 1954 my mother and fa­ther opened Heron’s in our home town of Ox­ford, Pa. Dad was look­ing to repli­cate the soda shop at­mos­phere that proved suc­cess­ful in North East.

But the real se­cret to Heron’s was its lo­ca­tion. It was a block away from the high school, and im­me­di­ately be­came a fa­vorite hang­out for kids af­ter school.

It was there that I mas­tered that gleam­ing, stain­less steel soda foun­tain, and what I re­fer to as the “Magic of the Cherry Coke.”

Three squirts of that glo­ri­ous Coke syrup, two squirts of cherry syrup, soda wa­ter (drawn from the foun­tain, not from a bot­tle.) Served over ice in an au­then­tic Coke glass. Stir. Serve. A lit­tle slice of heaven. And it cost 10 cents. Cherry Gin­ger Ale was a fam­i­ly­owned prod­uct even cheaper, you’d get three cents change back from your dime. And the house spe­cialty was root beer - drawn from an au­then­tic root beer bar­rel - in a frosted mug. That would set you back a nickel.

You’d be amazed at the dif­fer­ent con­coc­tions you could whip up at that foun­tain, in­clud­ing Lemon Cokes, Vanilla Cokes, even Choco­late Cokes. We did all va­ri­eties of Sun­daes, served in glass dishes.

By the way, ev­ery one of those Coke glasses, ba­nana float and Sun­dae dishes was washed by hand in scald­ing hot wa­ter. I think my hands still have blis­ters to prove it.

I’ve been think­ing a lot about those kinds of small busi­nesses re­cently. Just this past week we marked the an­niver­sary of the first pa­tent be­ing granted for a soda foun­tain. I posted that on Face­book, along with a photo of the inside of my par­ents’ store in Ox­ford, in­clud­ing that counter where I served all those Cherry Cokes.

As it does ev­ery time I post some­thing about those “mag­i­cal” days, it sparked an avalanche of mem­o­ries.

I am guess­ing the peo­ple who pa­tron­ized a cou­ple of sim­i­lar fam­ily busi­nesses here in Delaware County are feel­ing the same way these days. We are los­ing two more icons. Joseph D. Dou­bet jew­elry store has graced State Street Me­dia for 25 years.

The Riddle Ale House has been a main­stay on Bal­ti­more Pike in Mid­dle­town even longer.

The Dou­bet fam­ily didn’t look on the peo­ple who walked in the door as cus­tomers; they were fam­ily.

The Pom­pei fam­ily did the same, sand­wiched between Riddle Hos­pi­tal and Gran­ite Run in Mall. They out­lived the mall, and are still there even as the Prom­e­nade at Gran­ite Run rises in its place.

But not for much longer. The fam­ily will close the place this week. Thank­fully, they will be of­fer­ing those roast beef sand­wiches at a new es­tab­lish­ment slated to open in Me­dia.

Run­ning one of these small, fam­ily-owned en­ter­prises is no walk in the park. I know. I’ve been there.

The writ­ing was on the wall for places like Heron’s when busi­ness changed. Sud­denly such small-time op­er­a­tions were no longer a nov­elty, they were an ag­gra­va­tion.

The com­pa­nies that sup­plied the in­gre­di­ents that made the place fa­mous in­formed my mother that mak­ing a stop for such a small op­er­a­tion was no longer worth their time. If we could not place a min­i­mum or­der, they would no longer de­liver the syrup, meats and ice cream that were the back­bone of the place.

My mother, ever the en­tre­pre­neur, out­smarted them – at least for awhile. She pooled re­sources with other small mom-and-pop op­er­a­tions in town to place or­ders, then lit­er­ally cut up some of the meats and other items and split them up among the busi­nesses. For some rea­son I don’t think Wawa has that prob­lem.

I call it the Wal­mart-iza­tion Amer­i­can busi­ness.

And make no mis­take, comes with a price.

Places like Dou­bet and the Ale House of­fer some­thing you don’t get at a mall, or one of the na­tional chains of jew­elry stores or eater­ies.

And it’s cer­tainly not some­thing you get at Wal­mart.

At places like Dou­bet’s and the Riddle Ale House, you get fam­ily.

Joe and Joyce Dou­bet it of al­ways un­der­stood that. So did Arnold Pom­pei. “We de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships,” Joyce Dou­bet said of the fam­ily jew­elry busi­ness. “You get to know the cus­tomer’s style, what they like. And they get to know us.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared just a few miles far­ther out Bal­ti­more Pike, where the Pom­pei fam­ily fed sev­eral gen­er­a­tions with a leg­endary roast beef sand­wich that peo­ple would drive miles to en­joy.

When we lose busi­nesses like Dou­bet’s and the Riddle Ale House, we lose a part of what makes us a com­mu­nity.

It’s peo­ple who know your name when you walk in the door. They are your neigh­bors. And friends. Af­ter all, that is their name on the sign out­side. That is their “sig­na­ture” on ev­ery one of those roast beef sand­wiches, ev­ery one of those pieces of jew­elry des­tined to be fam­ily heir­looms.

I think my mom and dad un­der­stood “fam­ily,” prob­a­bly a lot bet­ter than they ever un­der­stood.

Ev­ery day af­ter school, and af­ter ath­letic prac­tice, kids would walk the block from the school to Heron’s. Maybe they would have a Cherry Coke, or a frosted mug of root beer.

But they also wanted to do some­thing else. All those kids who lived out­side town wanted to use the phone to call home and alert their needed a ride.

That’s right. No pay phone. Mom wouldn’t hear of it. These were all “her” kids. They lined up at the end of the counter and used the busi­ness phone. I still re­mem­ber the phone num­ber. I’m sure they did, too.

Mom and dad were not busi­ness barons. They ran a fam­ily busi­ness. One that had their name on it. And one that re­mains a fond mem­ory of ev­ery kid who grew up in that town.

Much as I’m sure gen­er­a­tions will re­mem­ber Dou­bet’s and the Riddle Ale House.

It’s what I like to re­fer to as “the magic of the Cherry Coke.” It was dif­fer­ent time, a dif­fer­ent world.

It is the hunt for some­thing that is not there any­more. We are los­ing two more The will be missed. Farewell, Dou­bet’s, State Street won’t be the same.

Nei­ther will Bal­ti­more Pike out in front of Gran­ite Run.

Any­body know where you can get a de­cent foun­tain Coke these days? par­ents they icons.

The soda foun­tain 1960’s. inside Heron’s in Ox­ford, Pa., in a scene from the

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