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The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

A Sweet Escape: Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe

From the moment I first opened the creaky, squeaky door and stepped into Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe, I knew that I was entering an unusual realm – a place so friendly and welcoming that it is almost intoxicating.

Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe has found a cozy niche within downtown Clayton and a warm place in the hearts of many customers. (Madeline Flemming)
Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe has found a cozy niche within downtown Clayton and a warm place in the hearts of many customers. (Madeline Flemming)

“You know we can still see you if you’re trying to hide behind all those boxes,” called a woman from behind the soda counter, Mary Ruth, speaking to the substantially burdened deliveryman who had walked in before me.

“You can’t see me!” he playfully replied. Within seconds of entering the store, I was smiling.

In more ways than one, Jennifer’s tends to have that effect on people. The old-fashioned, home-style store moved into its current location at 30 N. Central Ave. in 2005 after spending 14 years down the street as solely a pharmacy.
Now Jennifer’s offers everything from cards, books, toys, candy, games and other kitschy merchandise that you won’t find at a local Walgreen’s.

But what is ultimately the most inviting and most delicious aspect of Jennifer’s is the soda shoppe, a white countertop fully equipped with cushy swivel stools and trays of cookies and pies.

“The fountain itself is just the metal part in the center on the backside, and it’s from the 1920s, it’s an antique,” said Jennifer Rich, the owner, pharmacist and namesake of the store. “I got that from an elderly couple in Oregon, so it cost me more to have it shipped here than I actually paid for it, and then all of this just started happening.”

The pharmacy itself is unusual. It is a compounding pharmacy, meaning Jennifer makes medicine, creams, capsules, liquid solutions – even medicine for pets.

She also offers all-natural supplements and skin care products, much like a health foods store.

The shop is well known for its classic shakes and malts. (Madeline Fleming)
The shop is well known for its classic shakes and malts. (Madeline Fleming)

The food at Jennifer’s is unique and delicious. Award-winning shakes – including the pie milkshake, a must-try – salads and sandwiches of all sorts, pies, cookies, and the meatloaf melt are only a handful of the possibilities.

“All the food is house-made,” said Isabel, Mary Ruth’s partner behind the counter. “The meatloaf, the soups, the pies, it’s all made from scratch here at Jennifer’s.”

Taking a seat at the lunch counter is a recipe for great food and, just as important, more than a few laughs. Mary Ruth and Isabel are, in many ways, the best part of Jennifer’s.

They began working at Jennifer’s after teaching together for almost two decades at First Congregational Preschool, and their friendship is clear.

Their banter from behind the counter is always entertaining, and their interactions with customers are priceless.

“We have a lot of regulars,” Mary Ruth said. “I never remember anybody’s name, so I have nicknames for everybody.”

“Thing 1” and “Thing 2” (two men who work at the County offices), “Hollywood” (a man from California) and “Hearty Soup Man” are among their favorites.

“You know my name!” chimed in the man sitting at the counter to my left, Terry.

“Terry I do know,” Mary Ruth conceded. “Ok, so I know one name out of a hundred.”

The conversation then moved on to the man at the end of the counter, who was nursing what seemed to be a swollen cheek.
The man reminded Terry of when he had stones in his saliva ducts, much like kidney stones but in the mouth.

“The doctor said the best way to draw it out was to use Sweet Tarts,” Terry said.

“I would’ve never guessed that,” Mary Ruth replied.

Later, I asked Mary Ruth what her specialty is – Isabel’s is making the pies.  She turned and asked Isabel, standing at the end of the counter. Making the salads was the response, and “she keeps everybody happy” too.

“Your specialty is rapport,” Terry quipped, much to Mary Ruth’s amusement.

“Ok, there we go,” she said. “You won me over.”

Jennifer's Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe also has a variety of delictable deserts like its famous banana split. (The shop is well known for its classic shakes and malts. (Madeline Fleming)
Jennifer's Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe also has a variety of delectable desserts like its famous banana split. (The shop is well known for its classic shakes and malts. (Madeline Fleming)

Such small talk, casual yet intimate, is what makes Jennifer’s so warm and welcoming.  Mary Ruth and Isabel genuinely have fun interacting with the customers – regulars, newbies, young, old – who walk in the door, and it’s clear that they truly love what they do.

“It’s just fun,” Isabel said. “We get to know them, we get to know their families, they get to know us – it’s a great place.”

An example of the close bond that the ladies behind the counter form with their customers is a 92-year-old, white-haired man who they call Norm – he is one of Mary Ruth and Isabel’s favorites.

“We love it when old people come in,” Isabel said as she began to giggle. “We’re fond of old men.”

Perhaps the part of Jennifer’s that best represents the store as a whole is the “Wall of Fame,” a modestly sized picture collage that adorns the back-left wall.

It is a visual documentation of the regulars, the “fun, special, people” who flock to Jennifer’s, Isabel said.  Some of the photos on the wall, she added somberly, show people who have since passed away.

The “Wall of Fame” epitomizes Jennifer’s old-fashioned, friendly, homey atmosphere; it shows an appreciation and a real care for their customers.

This April, Jennifer’s will mark its twentieth anniversary. Though plans have not been finalized, Jennifer said that some sort of celebration is in the works.

In the meantime, the door is always open for lunch and a stool is always waiting at one of Clayton’s most lovely and unique shops.

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    LyellApr 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Great article, our granfather is Norm and he loves those ladies and Jennifer’s pharmacy

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A Sweet Escape: Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe