By Nina Auslander
The Lyons soda fountain has gone through the hands of thirteen owners, the Great Depression, a fire, a flood, and too many renovations to count. Throughout all of the soda fountain’s storied history, one constant remains: the beautiful back bar, made out of Italian and Vermont marble, dark cherrywood cabinets, and colorful stained-glass panels framing a mirror. Generations have peered into the reflection, ordered an ice cream soda, and watched the world go by.
The soda fountain’s history began in 1927 when Ray and Maudie Messick bought the drugstore from Angelo French. Their business was a huge success. Maudie recalled the 1927 business in an article she wrote for the Lyons Recorder in 1972: “All the buses, and most everyone else, stopped at our store, buying fishing and camera equipment, etc. We also did a fountain business. Our business was very good, and on Sundays in the summer Ray would run an ice-cream and soda pop stand in Meadow Park at the edge of town, which drew crowds from surrounding towns.” (Memories of Lyons 1927-1931, Lyons Recorder, written in 1972 by Maudie Messick.)
In 1931, Ray got “itchy feet” according to Maudie’s article, and the couple moved back to Kansas City. They sold the property to Glenn “Doc” Jernigan and Mabel Jernigan, who owned the soda fountain into the 1970s. The Depression made the growth of the drug store very slow, but the Jernigans still managed to keep the store open from 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m., seven days a week. The owners expanded their interest in the soda fountain portion of the drugstore, adding the soda fountain and counter in 1932. It is the same soda fountain and counter used today in the Lyons Soda Fountain.
In the predawn hours of January 15, 1967, a fire burned down the soda fountain. Remarkably, according to the Lyons Redstone Museum, firefighters were able to salvage many important parts of the soda fountain, such as the back bar, the soda fountain itself, and many of the original booths and stools. You can see one of the original booths at the Lyons Redstone Museum.
Glenn Jernigan considered retiring after the fire, but the community of Lyons rallied around him, begging him to keep the store running. The Jernigans had an incredible impact on Lyons; not only did they run the drugstore and soda fountain, but according to LaVern Johnson, “The Jernigans' drugstore wasn’t just a place to get prescriptions filled. It was a rendezvous for teenagers and adults alike. It was a place where younger kids came to bask in the warmth and connection of which the Jernigans gave so freely.” (Jernigans Bid ‘Farewell,’ the Lyons Recorder, March 3, 1983, by LaVern Johnson.)
An empty building was located across the street, so the Jernigans decided to move the drugstore there, according to old editions of the Lyons Recorder. Six years later, they did decide to retire, selling the Lyons Drug Store at its location on the south side of Main Street to Betty and Joe Erni in 1972.
Newspaper articles reported that the Ernis moved the business back to its original place at 400 Main Street. They worked hard to maintain the glory of the Lyons Soda Fountain by returning the back bar and the soda fountain to the building, which had been languishing in storage for the past six years. This was the first time the soda fountain was exclusively in its own building, rather than within a drugstore.
Old editions of the Lyons Recorder and other newspapers throughout the years on file at the Redstone Museum continue to track the changes to the Lyons Soda Fountain. In the ensuing decades, a flurry of owners came and went, beginning in July of 1979, when Bob and Amelia Brooks, a couple from California, bought the soda fountain from the Ernis.
Next, Rollerskatin’ Timber Dan, a.k.a. Dale Vander-Linder, bought the Lyons Soda Fountain in September of 1981. Timber Dan was a fun-loving character, often dressing up as a clown and other various costumes to appear in parades, wrote Maurine Berens in an article for the Longmont Times-Call.
Timber Dan also participated in a program where Lyons Elementary students each received a free ice cream cone if they won Student of the Month for their respective classes.
He sold the business and building to James Morton in 1984, who still retains the rights of the business today.
In 1987, Marilyn Brummer and Lynn Mitchell bought the business from James Morton, putting their own distinct spin on the Fountain, with the Lyons Weekend writing in 1987, “Marilyn will be managing her adjoining antiques and collectibles store. Marilyn has already begun expanding her gift shop with glassware, handcrafted doilies, and some furniture.”
In 1994, Louise and James Perreca purchased the soda fountain. Louise, a former resident of New York, found herself reliving the dangerous crimes of yore when an elderly man nabbed 21 postcards from her shop. This is how the Old Lyons Recorder describes the scene: “Her immediate reaction? She threw down her dishrag, charged out the door and tore down the street after the man.”
In 1996, the Perrecas sold the soda fountain to David and Sondra Weeks, who required their employers to wear 1920’s-era striped ruffle shirts with white slacks to add to the historic feel of the shop.
In 1999, Walt and Connie Davis bought the business, and added a commercial bakery to the Soda Fountain, so they could serve cinnamon rolls, feta spinach bread, muffins, and sun-dried tomato focaccia rounds.
In 2001, David Chilson purchased the shop. In 2004, David parent’s, John and Charlene Chilson, purchased the soda fountain from their son. In 2005, the Food Network announced that the Lyons Soda Fountain had the best malts and shakes in Colorado. In an article written by Rich Tosches for Rocky Mountain Ranger, this accolade was partially to do with the “mooshing” technique that the Chilsons developed for their ice cream sodas, “You start with the syrup,” says John, “one scoop of ice cream and a shot of carbonated water and then you moosh ‘em all up. Mooshing is a science. Most places today don’t moosh. It takes too much time.”
In 2006, the soda fountain was once again on the verge of closing. James Morton rushed to save the restaurant, revealing to Rich Tosches that “My [other] restaurant is in an 1881 building. Lyons has history. We have to preserve what’s left.”
In 2012, Steve Thompson and son-law Patrick Redding purchased the soda fountain from James Morton. Then, on June 1, 2017, Lyons resident Jennifer Quinn began operating the Soda Fountain as “Snack.”
Quinn echoes Morton’s sentiment. “The soda fountain makes Lyons folks proud,” she says. “The soda fountain brings you back to a simpler time. I love it when every barstool is full with a giggling kid slurping soda. I think that’s what the tourists crave as well; the simpler life.”
She focuses on using wholesome ingredients in her store, selling small batch ice cream and all-natural sodas, as well as making delicious soups and selling “LaVern Johnson approved” Reuben sandwiches. She wants to remind Lyons residents that she is committed to making food for Lyons residents and not tourists.
In the future, Quinn said she wants to blend the old and new by adding a “steampunk vibe” to the establishment.
Still, Quinn acknowledges having trouble in allowing her business to grow without her there every moment. “It’s still in its infancy,” she says. “Or I suppose, to be more correct, its resurrection.”