The town almost loses a place full of memories.
|Spinnaker’s Lunch Counter
The center and heart of my hometown in the mid-1950s was not what you might expect. It wasn’t the church, post office, movie theater, school, or general store. Everything revolved around those spinning stools at Spinnaker’s Lunch Counter. In 1946 Old Man Spinnaker had remodeled his downtown corner drug store to include a place to serve the community with food and chat. In 1956 his teenage daughter convinced him to put a juke box in the corner. This was the place you learned the latest gossip or celebrated the football team’s prowess. It has been told that Jimmy Wilson got down on one knee right there in front of the greeting card rack and proposed to Sandra. Years later they still took their kids there to have cones, sundaes and milk shakes.
Salesclerks from stores like Sears and JC Penney ordered lunches of chili or ham sandwiches between 11 and 1:00. Nurses from Doc Watson’s office and ladies from the local utilities office would window shop on their trek up the sidewalk to have a Pepsi and Baby Ruth on an afternoon break.
You couldn’t hang around your locker flirting with the boys if you expected to get a seat at the counter after school. At times it got so crowded and noisy Mr. Spinnaker would let ice cream drip from the scoop he waved in the air as he yelled, “You hooligans settle down. I’m running a business here.” Of course, we didn’t listen much over the sounds of Elvis and Buddy Holly.
When my turn came at the counter, I always had a chocolate soda and sometimes split a club sandwich with Susan Miller. It always looked just like the colorful ad above the soda fountain with the ham and bacon piled high and mayonnaise dripping off the sides. I traded her half of the turkey to have all the thick and salty bacon.
Two small tables had been placed at the end of the cosmetic counters and usually had business men sitting close together discussing a big deal or golf scores over coffee. When the men vacated the chairs, there was a flurry of teenage arms and legs rushing to claim the precious seats. Of course, if Johnny Francone got one of the chairs, he always offered to let the girls sit on his lap.
In 1983 it finally happened. The For Sale sign appeared in the window of the place that held so many memories for the residents of this little town. Word got around that the Spinnakers would be moving to the City to be close to their daughter and her family. While we understood that, something had to be done to save this special place.
I started talking to friends and neighbors and we put together a plan which would require a lot of help from the city fathers. The store front had been built in the 1920s and could be the catalyst for a revitalization project to bring life back to the downtown area. The old place needed some refurbishing and the city would need to loosen some codes and get some tax breaks for the person or group that would want to buy the property and maintain the business.
I somehow became the spokesperson for this rag tag group of residents with a big dream. We met with the City Manager and City Council to detail our proposal and the petition with 4 pages of signatures. A town meeting was called where many spoke to the standing room only meeting room in support of the plan. A vote was called for and after months of negotiations and planning we finally achieved our goal. The tax incentive program would make it more financially attractive to a potential buyer.
Nine months later the young family who purchased the business had it ready to face their anxious customers. Their two year old son ran circles around his mom as his dad cut the ribbon and invited everyone in to view what was now this family’s dream, too.
The oohs and ahhs started as we stepped inside the familiar doors, but it was different. Gone was the pharmacy and cosmetic counters. New tables and chairs filled the open space. As I looked around I saw the same old Coke and sandwich signs, the same wood floor newly shined, and memorabilia from the old store and the history of our town. Standing in the corner was the juke box with 45 RPM records playing. The menu now included more coffees, lattes, and salads but the smell of fresh ice cream and toppings still filled the air.
Strangely even with the changes, I seemed at home, and I knew these new owners knew how important or memories were. I turned and smiled at the familiar sight that would still be called Spinnaker’s Lunch Counter.