Ginny Spencer puts a few scoops of French Vanilla ice cream into a glass. Next she mixes chocolate syrup and melted peanut butter. Then she pours that on top of the ice cream. To finish it off she puts a scoop of marshmallow cream on top. When she finishes, a Jo Jo, one of the most popular items on the menu at Patterson’s Drug Store, sits on the soda fountain counter.
For seven years, Ginny Spencer has worked the soda fountain at Patterson’s. She has made plenty of Jo Jos.
“Some days I’ll make 10 to 20, other days maybe three or four,” Spencer said.
Though Spencer has been making the dessert for about seven years, the Jo Jo has been around for much longer. Spencer believes it was named after Mrs. Patterson’s dog but she cannot be certain.
The soda fountain is one of the most popular features of Patterson’s, which is located on Main Street in Martinsburg, W.Va. It is one of a handful of pharmacies in Martinsburg and one of the only ones that delivers prescriptions. James Patterson bought the store in 1926 and added the soda fountain a few years later.
After eighty-five years, the store has survived and continues to serve the community of Martinsburg. Throughout the day people come in and out. Everyone smiles and greets each other. Everyone knows one another. People are even polite to the woman who writes parking tickets. The service is friendly, informal, and personalized. And that doesn’t stop at the soda fountain.
Behind the pharmacy are five pharmacists that include George Karos. He began working at Patterson’s when he was 10-years-old as a delivery boy. After a couple years, he eventually moved up and was allowed to work the soda fountain making Jo Jos. After graduating from high school, Karos attended Shepherd College and then went on to receive his degree in Pharmacy from the School of Pharmacy in Richmond, Virginia. He came back and worked at Patterson’s until he bought the store with his partner, William N. Widmyer, in 1980. Widmyer retired in 1985 and Karos took sole ownership.
“People always ask, ‘How do you stay in business, so many small independents are closing up?’ and I say I guess because of the service,” said Karos. “We have five registered pharmacists, free prescriptions with every service, we have free charge accounts, and we’re on call 24/7. Christmas day we get called out, so I think service is key to our operation.”
“I remember when I was a kid the pharmacy would deliver medicine to our house,” laughs Jay Effland. Effland has been a pharmacist at Patterson’s off and on for six years.
The store continues to deliver prescriptions and the old-fashioned marble counter top at the soda fountain continues to be a hub for local gossip.
“A group of people used to meet in here every morning and solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee,” Karos said.
Even though the group of problem solvers doesn’t meet anymore, Patterson’s still sees its share of regulars. Every Friday Sonny Hess, a retired purchasing agent, has breakfast with David Moser, a preacher at a local church, and Chico Rivera, a retired horse jockey. The conversations cover everything from the local high school football team to Moser’s desire for Hess’s jacket after he passes on. Laughter is a big part of the conversations.
Hess comes to the pharmacy almost every day to eat and talk. A native of Martinsburg, he used to bring his girlfriend to Patterson’s when he was in high school.
“I would meet my girlfriend at Patterson’s for a Jo Jo,” he said. “I would ask my dad for a quarter, so I could buy my girlfriend a Jo Jo. He worked on a dry cleaning truck and would always say, ‘Boy, do you think money grows on trees.’”
Hess would buy his girlfriend a Jo Jo then go to the Blue White Grill and buy some hamburgers. Afterward they would go to the War Memorial Park and have a picnic.
“We’d eat the hamburgers and then kiss a little,” laughs Hess. “I’ve been coming back ever since.”
“A Jo Jo is so good, you’ll bite your mother for one,” Hess says with a smile. Over the years, the store has seen a few upgrades. In 2008 Karos had a new door and floor installed to help keep the store updated but one thing has stayed the same, the marble countertop.
“Most drug stores in the past 50 years, I think have removed their soda fountains. And now some of the trade magazines indicate they are putting the soda fountains back in. This fountain is unusual because of the marble top it has,” said Karos.
With its vintage marble top soda fountain, outstanding customer service, and the Jo Jo, Patterson’s has become more than a pharmacy. It has become a meeting center for locals. It is a staple in the community, a place you have to see if you’re in Martinsburg.
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