FOLEY — The moment you walk through the doors of Stacey’s Olde Tyme Soda Fountain, you are transported to a simpler time. The days when a cup of coffee was 10 cents, and you could sit and talk about life and politics with your neighbor. There was always a familiar face and a soda jerk with a smile.
Not much has changed in nearly 100 years at the corner of West Laurel Avenue and North Alston Street. You can still get a 10-cent cup of coffee, and there is a row of hats honoring those who have passed.
Of course, the soda fountain and ice cream shop didn’t start out as such. It was once a pharmacy, a place to get the medicine needed for “what ails you.” The pharmacy part of the business closed in 2020, but the owner was determined to keep the doors open somehow.
Burke Langham, Jr. bought Stacey’s in August 2003. The pharmacist decided to own his own independent pharmacy after working for other chains for over 20 years. He said after retiring from the Army Reserves and as a dad to his sons, he knew it would be better for his family to go into business on their own.
“I came in and started working here, and now we’ve been in it ever since,” Langham said. “It gave me the opportunity to get off early and have some Sundays off. When I worked in the chain environment, we didn’t have a lot of time off, and our boys were small. I wanted to have a family life.”
Langham said the small-town pharmacy that had been around since the 1920s reminded him of a place in his hometown of Chickasaw, Alabama. He was thankful when former Foley Mayor Arthur Holk gave him a chance to lease the building and to continue operating the pharmacy.
Although he knew how to run a pharmacy, Langham said the soda fountain part was a challenge at first.
“It’s a little more difficult than I thought,” he remembered. “I had some former employees stick around and show me how to do it. You have to learn how to make different things. There’s phosphates, there’s sodas, there’s egg creams and limeades and all of these things you have to know how to make.”
The building was built in 1923 and is still full of some of the original wooden fixtures. Some have been restored, but the “olde tyme” feeling is still an offering of the historic space.
Adding to the history of the building is a row of “Stacey’s Curmudgeons” hats. Those old men that used to come to the store to meet and fellowship with one another are memorialized with hats displaying their names and the years they passed.
“We started out with about 10 of them,” Langham remembered. “They would come in and talk about politics at eight o’clock in the morning and have their coffee. They would be screaming at each other and get mad and just carrying on. Over time, they would let new people in, but sometimes they wouldn’t let you in their little group. But then they started passing away. They were in their eighties. This gave them something to do.”
Langham said there are only a couple of surviving Curmudgeons, but they are unable to meet at Stacey’s these days.
Along with the Curmudgeons hats, overhead, you can see and hear the old electric train. It travels on its track just below the ceiling all day, every day. The funny thing, Langham said, is that the regulars in his store get used to what they know, and that old train is an example of that.
“The previous owners bought it in 1990,” said Langham. “I have taken it and run it the other way, and people get upset. They don’t want anything to change.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is an employee that has been there for over three decades. Robert Averitt came to work at Stacey’s in 1991 after he retired from Riviera Utilities.
“It’s been fun,” said Averitt. “It’s the atmosphere. People enjoy coming here, and it’s a fun place.”
In 2019, things took a turn for the worst at the pharmacy. Although they had a lot of customers, Langham was forced to make a difficult decision because insurance companies were not reimbursing independent pharmacies well. Langham said at the age of 65, he felt it was time to close the pharmacy. So, in February 2020, the pharmaceutical part of the business closed.
“It just didn’t look like there was much of a future,” said Langham. “I said, ‘if something happens to me at this point, then my wife would be left with nothing.
“It was hard to close something that, at that point, I had been working on for 18-plus years or so. It was hard on us. We had a lot of people calling us. It was emotional. It was hard to do.”
Langham said he hopes to continue operating the soda fountain. He still gets to work early in the morning and works at closing every night. In the meantime, he is filling in part-time for other pharmacies in the area. His son, Burke Langham, III, who grew up around Stacey’s, still works there from time to time. He said he is thankful for his experiences at the old store.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I plan to keep it going as long as I possibly can. However long that is, I don’t know, but that’s my plan.”
The soda fountain offers more than soda and 24 flavors of ice cream. It also serves sandwiches, including fresh chicken salad, hot dogs, hamburgers and pimento cheese sandwiches.
“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the soda fountain, so we’re happy with that,” Langham said.
Stacey’s Olde Tyme Soda Fountain is located at 121 W Laurel Avenue, in Foley. You can call the store at (251) 943-7191.
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