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OLD-TIME SODA FOUNTAIN ADDS SOME ZIP TO L.A. PHARMACY

The end of Mae Gershon's plastic straw emitted a loud slurping sound when she finished the last bit of vanilla milkshake clinging to the bottom of her fountain glass.

"Ahhh," she said, a satisfied look settling on her wrinkled face. "Good . . . just like the old days."At 79, Gershon is getting a chance to relive her youth at the De Soto Pharmacy's newly installed soda fountain.

Soda fountains originated in the late 1800s in the South where druggists mixed up their own tonics as syrups with soda water. They became popular social spots for customers and, in Hollywood, legend has it that Lana Turner was discovered at the fountain at Schwab's Drugstore.

Soda shops figure prominently in entertainment lore. Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica hung out at Pop's, while the Nelson family in "Ozzie and Harriet" made frequent treks to their neighborhood fountain. And they appeared in movies such as "Little Big Man," "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Best Years of Our Lives."

They gradually disappeared, but at least one Los Angeles area pharmacy is pushing for a comeback.

"The customers love it," said David Meyers, who designed the soda shop in the Canoga Park drugstore of his father, Jerry Meyers. "It makes it fun for people to come in to the pharmacy. The feeling in the store is not dull anymore."

And not just for the ailing.

"You go there when you're sick. But now we have another whole area open, and people can come in here and walk out with a smile."

For the store's veteran patrons, this new ye olde soda shoppe is a welcome trip down memory lane.

"There's a large nostalgia thing going on," said Christy Schiffler, one of two soda jerks ("and proud of it") who work the fountain the six days a week it's open.

"The younger customers are just getting a really big kick out of it - that you can sit down in your drugstore, eat ice cream, scarf out on sandwiches and do your pharmacy shopping," Schiffler said.

Sit down on one of the bar stools and you can be served anything, including an old-fashioned root beer float, a banana split, a hot fudge sundae or an egg cream, shake or malt. Take a choice of sandwiches, too - ham, salami, roast beef, tuna and vegetarian.

And the ice cream? It's Lappert's, the premium, high-butterfat ice cream from Hawaii. "Very rich, very fattening," said soda jerk Heather Putnam. "It's the only one in the valley. The most local place you can get it is Hermosa Beach. Otherwise, you have to go to Monterey Bay."

Or Hawaii.

"We had one family come all the way from Pasadena that was just totally excited about the fact. They said, `Oh my gosh, you have Lappert's ice cream? We haven't had it since we went to Hawaii on our honeymoon five years ago,' " Schiffler said.

Paul Lin comes to the soda fountain a couple of times a week while visiting a friend who owns the store next door.

"My friend and I talk some business here," he said, shortly after finishing an ice cream and drink. "It's very good for a break. I like it here."

Everyone seems to like it at the soda fountain.

"I've always wanted to work in a place like this," Schiffler said. "Granted, it's not the most glamorous job, but I have a blast in here. The customers love it, I have a good time. It's one of those jobs where I just enjoy myself.

"And I love being called a soda jerk."