Hermiston Drug Boasts Surviving Soda Fountain and Snack Bar

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Customers enjoy lunch at Hermiston Drug on May 14, 2024. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

 It could be a snack bar that doubles as a soda fountain or perhaps it’s a soda fountain that doubles as a snack bar.

Either way you look at it, this corner of Hermiston Drug represents a rare oasis in retail shopping.

“It’s always been a place where people could come and meet and visit with friends,” said Bob Mullay, the Hermiston Drug owner and pharmacist. “It creates an atmosphere throughout the store that is, ‘Come and join us. We’re family.’”

Mullay said the countertop with revolving seats has been a magnet “for a long time. I‘ve had people come in here and say they met their spouses here 30-40 years ago. So it’s always been a part of the store.”

Mullay said he bought the store in 2000, “but I started working here in 1980.”

He was a pharmacist throughout that time.

It’s old but new

For some, the soda fountain is a new landmark.

“We just learned about it,” said Shari Young, who was in town from Riverside, California, visiting her granddaughter, Charlotte Wolf, 4. “We just came from the library where they have circle time for little people. We stopped in earlier and decided to come back.”

Their birthdays are a few days apart, Young said, so they celebrate together.

Lori Adriaansen serves coffee at the Hermiston Drug soda fountain. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

“I only get to see her a few times a year, and it’s very important for me to instill traditions and memories with my granddaughter, and I thought this would be a really special place to do that,” she said.

The engaging vibe of young couples who socialized there years or decades ago must thrive in the atmosphere and pass along their good will to more recent generations.

“Oh Charlotte, look,” Young said. “That looks like your kind of salad.”

Charlotte began working on her salad that server Lori Adriaansen presented.

“She loves ranch dressing and she got a good dose of it there,” Young said. “I lived near Hillsborough, California, maybe some 25-30 years ago, and they had a soda fountain, but there’s not anything like this anymore.”

Customers repeat

Adriaansen serves new visitors such as Young and Charlotte, but the corner attracts plenty of regulars.

“I have a lot of people from the Tri-Cities and from Pendleton,” Adriaansen said. “We have a lot of Heppner people who come over and have lunch. It takes time to get to know all the names. Some people will come in every week just for the meatloaf.”

Adriaansen said as a store employee, she can eat at the counter for half price, “but I usually don’t have time to eat. When I do, I like the soups, and she makes really good chili.”

Adriaansen was referring to the snack bar’s solo chef and baker, Bobbi Picker, who not only keeps soups and entrees flowing from her tiny kitchen, but she also finds time to make fresh bread and cakes from scratch.

“He’s a good soup man,” Picker said of customer D. Bradley. “He likes soup.”

“I’m one of those people who likes to go to a restaurant that’s quiet and with good service,” Bradley said. “That’s what this is. I’m an old railroader. I used to try to stay away from people because everybody comes in and wants to talk. This is one of those places. You get good service, good coffee, and they do their thing. I sit here by myself and once in a while I talk to somebody like Rod here. He’s an old union buddy.”

Faithful over half century

Rod Osgood said he’s been coming to the Hermiston Drug snack bar, “for more than 50 years.”

“I grew up here,” Osgood said. “I live between Irrigon and Boardman. I have a farm out of town and I get into Hermiston 2-3 times a week.”

Coming back time and time again for 50 years must mean there’s more than a little attraction to this corner of Hermiston Drug.

Ron Osgood, of Irrigon, grabs a cup of coffee at the soda fountain at Hermiston Drug. “They always have awesome cookies, good food and prices, and everyone here is pretty friendly,” Osgood said. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

“This has always been a pretty good place,” Osgood said. “I used to come get their malts here every now and then. Since then I’ll come in here once or twice a week when I get into town and I’ll stop in and get coffee. The people are nice and friendly. It’s about the only place you can sit around, visit with folks, and have coffee. It’s kind of nice.”

Osgood said he likes the service he gets from Adriaansen.

“They take pretty good care of us,” Osgood said, “and the price for things is amazing. Nobody else competes.”

Osgood also said Bobbi Picker makes, “the best cookies in town,” as well as, “some pretty amazing pies.”

Kathleen McCall also sang the praises of Picker’s pies.

“At Christmas time and at Thanksgiving you can put in orders for pies, too,” McCall said. “So it’s a win-win situation.”

Pies prove popular

“We have to please a lot of tastes,” Picker said. “A lot of people give me requests and I make just about any pie they can come up with. I love to bake. I make homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, caramel pecan rolls, huckleberry cinnamon rolls, lots of pies and cookies, cookies, cookies.”

The soda fountain stocks ice cream, of course, and staff members can prepare sundaes, milkshakes, malts, and old-fashioned ice cream sodas.

There’s a reason other snack bars/soda fountains have disappeared from retail stores, including pharmacies.

“I think a lot of drugstores eventually had to pull it out,” said long-time employee Linda Thompson, “because there aren’t enough customers to support it, and they want to use that space for something that might be a little more commercially viable. But we don’t want to do that because we consider it advertising. It’s a really good place for people to talk and socialize.”

Early Tuesdays there is a special on coffee and doughnuts, and the place just about fills up.

“If you could have been here a couple hours ago, every single chair at this counter was full and they stay full from 8 to 10 a.m.,” said Lela Loftus, the “front of store” specialist.

The refreshment corner of the store is such a local hit, owner Bob Mullay has no intention to do anything else with the area.

“As long as I possibly can keep this operation going, this will be part of this store,” he said.

After all, you can’t argue with success, or customers coming back again and again for 50 years.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been coming to Hermiston Drug since 1994. I get lost in the wonderful items that are for sale. Home grown authors have had their books sold there. I’ve ordered items from them that I couldn’t find. Awesome employees take great care of you. Pharmacists answer any question about you Rx’s. I’m a forever customer.

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