BERKELEY — For the better part of a century, it was the place to go for a tuna melt and a chocolate malt or a tube of toothpaste and a bottle of hair tonic.
It was a drugstore, a pharmacy and a soda fountain all in one, and the place at College Avenue and Russell Street was like no other in the Bay Area.
It was loved by old guys who came daily for a strong cup of black coffee, youngsters sneaking an after-school chocolate bar and neighbors who could walk over to pick up some aspirin.
The pharmacy went first, about four years ago, along with the white-coated workers, victims of insurance company policies that had slowly cut back on reimbursements, making it financially impossible to continue refilling prescriptions.
Ozzie's Soda Fountain with its round, red vinyl seats and Formica counter where generations of people had eaten grilled-cheese sandwiches and sucked down lime rickies, closed last year.
In mid-May the drugstore, now called Elmwood Health & Mercantile, will also close.
Store owner Vicky Carter, who has worked at the store for more than two decades, said, "Without the soda fountain, it just couldn't support itself. Times are different, and I think Berkeley is a very foodie place. I'm sure we were the only place on the West Coast where you could still get a sandwich on white bread."
An independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts, may take over a portion of the drugstore space
Nothing is set in stone. It all has to go through the city's process first. Brandel did not return a call for comment. Whatever happens to the space, the departure of the store will be a sad day for many, including Carter.
Her father, Charles Carter, owned, with Les Beretta, the College Avenue Pharmacy at College and Ashby avenues, but in 1981 moved his store to Ozzie's place. Charles Carter died in 1986, and Vicky Carter moved back to the area to be with her mom.
"(The job) was only meant to be temporary, and here it lasted 22 years," she said.
She said she is closing the store for financial reasons. "It has always been an expensive neighborhood in which to do business, and before too long it will only be the chain (stores) and restaurants that can afford to be here," she said.
The Orinda resident isn't sure what she's going to do next, but she's taking the summer off to think about it. "Get organized, work in my garden, I have some trips planned; reread the classics," she said.
She knows one thing for sure: She'll miss the place and the hundreds of people she knows by name who come in looking for pill cutters (she has those), saddle soap (she does not) and Christmas decorations (yep).
She'll miss all the whimsical merchandise — the talking bottle openers and the big package of Styrofoam cups that say "Redneck Stemware" on the side. She'll miss being part of a community that still includes people who pop in "at least once a day" looking to sit down at the soda fountain for an egg cream. (If you have to ask, you are too young to understand).
"People have been wonderful. People (who find out about the closure) have left here in tears. What's been very touching is how many people have been concerned about me," said Carter, 55.
Anthony Bruce came into the store on Wednesday. Bruce, 58, was leaving some fliers for a Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association event, and as he sat on a red swivel stool at the counter, memories inside the store flashed back.
He remembered the moose head on the wall. The furry head (one of the past owners was a hunter) may have even had a couple cigarettes hanging from its mouth. He wasn't sure about that.
He talked about his favorite carbonated drink, something called a "suicide."
"It's not politically correct to call a drink that anymore," Carter chimed in.
It's also apparently not politically correct to put the ingredients of a "suicide" in the newspaper.
"No, no, no. Don't write it down. It was just everything. Everything," Carter said.
But seriously, Bruce said, the closure will be a sad day.
"Over the years, any visitor who has come to town, especially from Europe, I've brought them here to see a real-life soda fountain in a drugstore. They are just speechless," he said.
According to "Tales from the Elmwood" by Burl Willis, Charles "Ozzie" Osborne bought the soda fountain in 1950, when fountains were still on nearly every corner and soda jerks behind every counter.
Osborne's friendliness and generosity (he once let Barbara Lubin's children run up a $4,000 tab and then gave her a part-time job to pay it off) earned him a loyal following.
But as Starbucks and McDonald's sprouted in many neighborhoods, soda fountains began to shut down.
By 1980, Ozzie's Fountain was the last remaining old-fashioned soda fountain in Berkeley, according to Willis. This made it even more treasured, especially for the couples who had met and courted over vanilla milkshakes. Osborne retired in 1986 (he's in his late 80s, living in Palo Alto). A number of operators tried to make a go of it after he retired, but, Carter said, it was never the same.
The soda fountain shut down in May 2007 to the dismay of many who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to save it.
Richard Nagler misses the fountain and he's going to miss the store, too. The 60-year-old Piedmont resident and a group of about a dozen others gathered every Saturday morning for 25 years at the counter for breakfast and a chat.
"You didn't go for the food but you went for the conversation," he said.
"It was from another time and another era. (It was like going) to the Smithsonian Museum but you could order a milkshake," he said referring to the antique, colored-glass ice cream dishes and soda bottles showcased in the place. "It was an extraordinary journey back into time."
Reach Kristin Bender at 510-208-6453 or Kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com.