NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The future seemed grim five years ago for a Nashville soda shop that has been serving up ice cream since the Great Depression. Faced with a rent increase, the Elliston Place Soda Shop hung a sign on the door: It would be closing for good.
In a city with a poor track record of protecting landmarks, it seemed as if another piece of Nashville history was about to disappear.
Two days later, the lunchtime line was out the door and down the block. Longtime waitress Linda Melton — Miss Linda to her many customers — said one alum from nearby Vanderbilt University flew in from New York, just for one last shake.
The immediate public show of support led to a new lease, a new owner and new popularity for the old-fashioned shop, which still has its classic tiled walls and floors, neon “food” and “soda” signs and red vinyl stools lining a Formica-topped counter.
Thursday marks a high point in the landmark’s comeback. Elliston Place was chosen as the launch site for the United States Postal Service’s new “soda fountain favorites” stamps, in part because it still offers all five desserts they depict: double-scoop ice cream cone, egg cream, banana split, root beer float and hot fudge sundae.
Stamp collectors attending the first-day-of-issue ceremony could get a special cancellation designed to look like the soda shop’s neon sign, complete with a sundae with a cherry on top.
Owner Skip Bibb said the shop is Nashville’s oldest restaurant that has continuously operated in its original location. It started out as part of a drugstore — the tiled walk in front of the door still reads “Elliston Pharmacy” — but in 1939, it became its own business.
Before Bibb bought the shop, the same person had owned it for decades, and suffered a long illness that left him unable to do much with it. Longtime customers still dropped by, but the shop “lost its energy,” Bibb said. “There was no ownership guidance.”
“My challenge when I got here was, I didn’t want to run a museum, but I did feel a sense of stewardship, because so many people have so many fond memories of this place.”
“We brought the food back to the level where it once was, back to using really good quality ingredients and making it from scratch,” Bibb added. “We cut out our own onion rings. We pat out our own burgers. We buy our buns from a local bakery.”
The shop also joined the world of social media in earnest. Its Facebook page has more than 22,000 “likes,” and the customer experience makes it perfect for Instagram and Pinterest, Bibb said.
In an age where people love to post photos of their food, who could resist snapping a picture of Miss Linda’s coconut cream pie, topped with five inches of perfectly sculpted and browned merengue?