Tom's Drugstore sat on the corner of Virginia St. and Shattuck Ave. in north Berkeley, a little more than two blocks from my house. Looking back, I realize that Tom's was one of the places that drew me out into the greater world. Well, I guess it was the candy and malteds that Tom sold that called to me.
Tom's Drugstore was was always tempting, because it had the comics carousel (I remember reading 'Sad Sack' and 'Richie Rich') and the candy counter. That's not to say Tom was a friendly guy right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The blue cardigan he always wore didn't give him a Mr. Rogers demeanor. He glared at us kids when we came in, towering over us from behind the long counter, keeping an eye on us as we scanned the comics.
View Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars in a larger mapIf I was very lucky, I could get a 10 cent candy bar, but I usually only had a nickel. I assumed the dime bars were the fancy ones, and the nickel ones were somehow lesser. The dime bars were the classics: the Hershey's, the Snickers and the Three Musketeers (which were favorites, even though my dad liked telling us he bit into one once and found it full of maggots).
The nickel bars I liked were Annabelle's Rocky Road bars (marshmallow with cashew--who knew?), Big Hunks (nougat with peanuts), Chuckles (where I first tasted and loved licorice) and Abba Zabas bars (peanut butter-filled taffy) bars. The Big Hunks came with directions to whack them on something before opening--nowadays Big Hunk bars aren't hard at all--you have to twist pieces off. People are getting soft.
A nickel was pretty easy to come by then, so I enjoyed those candy bars fairly often. But whenever I could rub two quarters together (or--more likely--find a friend with a spare quarter to rub with mine), I perched myself on one of the green stools at the counter. At one end of the counter was the big cash register, and, next to it, a large glass cookie jar filled with oatmeal cookies (the same kind, I'm sure, that were used in It's its--worthy of its own blog post). But in the center of the counter was the soda fountain.
It took only 50 cents to get a malted or a milkshake. I remember always having chocolate malteds, but is it really possible that whoever was sharing always wanted the same thing? Because I nearly always shared, partly because of the cost.
But also because when Tom (and every other ice cream place I remember) made a milkshake, he loaded the metal jar with scoops of hard ice cream, syrup, milk, and Horlicks powder (or was it Carnation?) and stuck it up under the green milkshake blender. A few minutes later, he unhitched the metal container, took down a footed milkshake glass, poured in the milkshake, stuck in a straw, and set the glass on the counter in front of us. Along with the metal jar, with another full glass of malted remaining. Tom might have seemed scary, but I don't remember there ever being a problem getting a second glass for my friend.
Looking back, Tom's Corner Drugstore is where I learned how to elbow my way past adults reading magazines (which ones exactly?) to get to the comics. Tom's was the first place I ordered and tipped. It was where I learned to keep a low profile, avoiding--while listening in on--the adults. I also gained the valuable skill of hanging out for 20 minutes on only one nickel (adjusted to 2009 dollars, it's more like 20 minutes for $1). But most of all, Tom's Corner Drugstore is where I learned to love malteds forever.