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A soda shop, also often known as a malt shop (after malt, a sweet milkshake flavoring), is a business akin to an ice cream parlor and a drugstore soda fountain. Interiors were often furnished with a large mirror behind a marble counter with gooseneck soda spouts, plus spinning stools, round marble-topped tables and wireframe sweetheart chairs.
The counter-service soda fountain was introduced in 1903, and around that same time, drugstores began to attract noontime customers by adding sandwiches and light lunches. The beverage menu at a soda shop usually included ice cream sodas, chocolate malts, fountain colas and milkshakes. A 1915 issue of Soda Fountain magazine stated: "The soda fountain of today is an ally of temperance... Ice cream soda is a greater medium for the cause of temperance than all the sermon ever preached on that subject."
There were many variations: Nashville's Elliston Place Soda Shop began as a drugstore soda fountain but became a plate-lunch restaurant after it was bought by Lynn Chandler in 1939. During the 1930s and 1940s, the jukeboxes in such establishments made them popular gathering spots for teenagers, as noted in the 1940s song "Jukebox Saturday Night" (tune by Paul McGrane and lyrics by Al Stillman).
- Moppin' up soda pop rickies
- To our hearts' delight,
- Dancing to a swingeroo quickie,
- Jukebox Saturday night...
Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe is a fictional soda shop created by Bob Montana as a setting for the characters in his Archie comic books and comic strips. Tate's soda fountain was based on real-life locations frequented by teenagers in Haverhill, Massachusetts, during the 1930s—Crown Confectionery and the Chocolate Shop on Merrimack Street and the Tuscarora on Winter Street. The character of Pop Tate was inspired by the Greek immigrant owners of these Haverhill soda shops. In the years 1936 to 1939, when Montana went to high school in Haverhill, he would join his friends at the Chocolate Shop counter and make sketches on napkins. A decade prior to Archie, the Sugar Shop was a hangout for the teenagers in Carl Ed's comic strip Harold Teen.
Ye Olde Mill (Utica, Ohio) keeps the tradition alive with a 19th-century ice cream parlor operated by the Velvet Ice Cream Company, and there are displays, working and non-working, in museums across the United States. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Fort Smith Museum of History has an old-style drugstore with a working soda fountain. In Medina, Ohio, America's Ice Cream and Dairy Museum at Elm Farm has a restored 1900s soda fountain with a 20-foot green-and-white Italian marble counter, vintage ice cream freezers, scoops and milk bottles, plus restored milk and ice cream delivery trucks. The Chippewa Valley Museum (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) has a working soda fountain that operated in the Eau Claire area between 1895 and 1924.
Soda shops are often used as settings in films and TV shows. In The Twilight Zone's Walking Distance episode a soda shop serves as a framing device and is a link to the past for Martin Sloan (Gig Young). Soda shops figure prominently in many movies, including Harold Teen (1934), Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946), Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) and Pleasantville (1998). The gang from Scooby-Doo are often seen frequenting a malt shop. A malt shop also plays a key point in Blast from the Past, reflecting changes in the surface world while the main characters are underground unaware of what has happened.