Georgetown Pharmacy owner in Merriam keeps alive drugstore tradition of old-fashioned sodas

Georgetown Pharmacy
Dennis Hendershot, owner of Georgetown Pharmacy, runs an old-fashioned soda fountain operation out of his drugstore in Merriam.

A bit of Johnson County history flows out of Georgetown Pharmacy in Merriam — a century-old taps soda fountain from an old drugstore in Fairway.

Inspired by the soda fountains of his youth, Georgetown Pharmacy owner, pharmacist and soda jerk Dennis Hendershot has been running the soda shop out of his drugstore since he first opened it in 2006. He runs it partly out of nostalgia and partly as a way to keep alive and even bring back some of the original social channels for people to meet and spend time together.

A hundred years ago, back before the reign of social media, instant messaging and free long distance phone calls, there was the soda fountain. In the early 20th century up until the 1960s, soda fountains were most commonly found at drugstores. They served as the local hangouts for socializing.

“Of course, I grew up with every pharmacy had a soda fountain,” Hendershot said. “I just like the fun of it. The soda fountain is probably what got me interested in pharmacy in the first place.”

In fact, the soda taps in his Merriam shop are the same ones from an old drugstore that first opened in Fairway in 1927, Hendershot said. That was his first pharmacy — formerly Crown Drugs and later Federmann Drugs — which he bought in 1971 and renamed Fairway Pharmacy (now it’s the location of Rainy Day Books).

By the time Hendershot had bought the Fairway pharmacy, the soda fountain in it hadn’t been operating for a few years. He removed the soda fountain because “it wasn’t the thing to do at that point in time” to have one in a drugstore anymore — but he kept it anyway and used it in his house.

He later opened and ran two other drugstores — Georgetown Pharmacy in the old Georgetown Shopping Center near AdventHealth Shawnee Mission and another that he purchased in Spring Hill, Kansas. The Spring Hill drugstore also had a successful soda fountain operation, he added.

Fast-forward to 2006 — after he sold or closed all three of his operations and moved his 32-year business, Georgetown Pharmacy, to downtown Merriam — and Hendershot got a hankering to use the old soda fountain again.

Georgetown Pharmacy
Hendershot makes old-fashioned sodas like this one, a Green River soda

All of the drinks and desserts are served old fashioned and made from scratch — sodas, malts, floats, milkshakes, egg creams, banana splits, sundaes — ice cream sodas. The soda flavors include Coca Cola, Sprite, root beer, Green River (lime) and cherry.

To make an old-fashioned, Hendershot pumps syrup into a glass partly filled with ice cubes, then stirs in the carbonated water by hand.

“Originally, before we had carbonation and all that, you sprinkled a little phosphoric acid in the drink and that gave it its effervescence and its kind of biting taste,” he said.

The rest of his soda fountain is decked out in old time decorations, complete with 115-year-old barstools from a drugstore in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It was just some place you always went,” Hendershot said, recalling his childhood memories of the soda fountain. “When I was growing up and in school, we’d go there after we ate lunch at school. We’d go down to the drugstore after school. In the evening, you went to the drugstore. You always went there for a Coke or something, just to hang out.”