For sale: ice cream history

Owners of old-style malt shop must sell, putting equipment and memories on market

August 11, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

For sale: the contents of a 1940s corner South Baltimore soda fountain shop, including marble counter, antique telephone, seating booths, Coca-Cola signs, art deco shelving and the recipe for lemon phosphate. Asking price: $75,000, with the buyer moving all the fixtures.

Nearly four years ago, Mark Trunk and his wife, Penny C. George, decided to lease the Olde Malt Shop at East Fort Avenue and Webster Street. During afternoons and evenings, they served milk shakes, snowballs, malts and ice cream cones in one of Baltimore's surviving neighborhood soda fountain settings.

"We were both history-minded," said Trunk, a Hamilton resident and former employee of the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. "Even in the winter, people get cabin fever quickly and start having a craving for Hershey's chocolate syrup. And there are people who have a craving for a snowball in December."

This summer, the couple received notice that the building's owner, Earl Gallion, who lives upstairs and operates a beauty salon behind the shop, was not renewing their lease.

"You couldn't find better tenants," Gallion said, adding that at age 73 he's going to retire and occupy a larger portion of the building than he does now.

He recalled last week that 18 years ago he bought the former Fort Avenue Pharmacy, owned for decades by Sylvan Sollod, a pharmacist who presided behind the prescription counter.

"It's a real pity it's going," said Elizabeth Mack, a Pasadena resident who enjoyed a milk shake here over the years and worked at the store as a teenager. "There was a time when it was constantly busy. I did ice cream and milk shakes all night long."

In 1991, Gallion restored the fountain and added his Earl's Beauty Inn - two businesses under one long rowhouse roof. He and his employees ran the sweet shop until 2004, when they put the word out that the fountain area, a long, narrow space with a tin ceiling, was for rent.

The Hamilton couple made a business arrangement and have been keeping the place open Wednesday through Sunday, afternoons and evenings. They charge $2 for a Hershey's ice cream cone (single dip) and $4 for an ice cream soda.

"If anyone wants to walk away with the whole store for $75,000, then the price is right," said Trunk. "Everything except for the floor and ceiling. Moving the marble counter is going to be tricky. It's heavy."

Trunk, who grew up in Overlea and worked at Kay's Pharmacy on Belair Road, said the sale would include a kind of pharmacy archive in the old cellar. There are slabs of marble from an earlier fountain, stacks of old prescription slips stored on wire spindles and an old Oriole gas range. The stove probably was used for making the syrups used at the fountain.

Also included in the fixtures sale will be a number of semi-antique telephones that Trunk salvaged when he worked for the telephone company, initially as the guy who collected the coins from pay phones. He found a classic pay phone in the old Greyhound Barber Shop at Howard and Centre streets. It now sits just inside the soda fountain's front door, where a similar model would have once served South Baltimoreans who didn't have phones or maybe needed to make a call when their party line was tied up.

"Young people come in and see a rotary dial as a novelty," he said.

He's also throwing in an intercom telephone from the old McHenry movie theater on Light Street, an enameled 1914 Maryland plate he found in a Roland Park garden and several vintage home phones, one salvaged from the St. Paul Court apartments in Charles Village.

Included in the take-all sale offering is a collection of old pharmacy bottles of the type Sollod would have dispensed.

"I always believed that as a pharmacist you personally handed every prescription to a customer, then discussed their trouble and explained to them how to take it," the pharmacist told a Sun reporter in 1990. "In those days, people thought nothing of rapping on the back door at 3 in the morning to tell me they didn't have use of their bowels and could I give them something. That was the way it was when you lived upstairs."

His wife, Marian Sollod, said at the time that they "couldn't have made it without the soda fountain; it was the busiest part of the store. On a hot summer night, before air conditioning, there would be a line formed while people waited for something cold to eat or drink."

She recalled that she "wore a big smock behind the soda fountain. Nobody could even tell when I was pregnant. They'd be surprised when I had a new son."

The Sollods raised three sons at the store but moved to another home when living conditions upstairs became too crowded.

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