The Rutherford Weekly recently approached Smith's Drug Store with the intention of producing an article about the long life of The Fountain and it's 'secret for success' all these years. Mr. John Higgins, owner and pharmacist, referred us to Mrs. Susan Stewart who is the current manager of The Fountain. We presented Mrs. Stewart with a list of questions and her response was so thorough and compelling that we are publishing it verbatim. Her description of The Fountain and it's history illustrates the culture that, one would conclude, answers any questions about it's longevity.
"The Fountain at Smith's Cut Rate Drug Store began operations in 1940. There were a total of 15 booths and a seating capacity of 60 people. At the time, L.D. Shuford was the owner and pharmacist at Smith's. In 1988, Hugh Moore bought the business and changed the name to Smith's Drugs of Forest City. In 1991, John Higgins came to work as a pharmacist for Hugh Moore. He bought the business from Mr. Moore in 2000. Mr. Higgins remodeled The Fountain in 2002 and remodeled the entire store in 2005. As business grew, 4 booths and 9 tables were added to The Fountain in 2009. Smith's Drugs of Forest City currently employs 76 people throughout its five departments.
I came to work as manager of The Fountain and Gift Shop in 2007. The Fountain's original menu consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, egg salad sandwiches, and chicken salad sandwiches. I changed the equipment on the line so that a casual dining menu could be designed and implemented. This is the menu currently in use. We prepare approximately 25,000 meals each week. Our hand-patted burgers are the most popular item on our lunch menu and the grilled pimento cheese sandwich is a close second. The Hooty Who ham club sandwich also makes a lot of foodies happy. A variety of omelets have become breakfast favorites.
In March of 2010, The Fountain was featured in Southern Living. Our livermush was mentioned as a "Must Try." In July of 2010, Our State magazine devoted an issue to the best foods to try in each of North Carolina's 100 counties. Our pimento cheese sandwich was featured on the magazine cover as well as in an article. This recognition was a huge boost to The Fountain's business. Many people from around the state made pilgrimages to all 100 counties to try the best food featured for each county.
Like all businesses on Main Street in Forest City, Smith's Drugs saw a negative impact during the decline of the manufacturing sector in Rutherford County. Despite the economic hardships of the time, our customer base remained loyal. Fortunately, and due largely to the fact that Smith's Drugs has been an anchor store for the Town of Forest City for many years, the business weathered the change.
In the past several years, there have been numerous new restaurants and other businesses that have opened on Main Street and in the surrounding area. Thankfully, I am able to report that The Fountain has continued to grow in sales. The new businesses draw new people, and therefore potential new customers, into the town, which is a plus for all business owners. As a resident of Rutherford County for over 30 years, I am excited to see the new opportunities for growth in our county.
The people that we serve every day are the source of our greatest joy at The Fountain and at Smith's Drugs. Our customers become part of our Smith's Drugs family.
One of the most difficult times in our business was when our county had an unemployment rate of 16%. When our friends and neighbors hurt, we hurt with them. During that time, Mr. Higgins had the Christian radio station, 106.9 The Light, come broadcast from the store to try and bring attention to the needs in our county. The program gave a voice to many hurting people. As a result, there was an increase in donations to be distributed throughout the county.
As for the business in the coming years, Smith's Drugs is always looking for opportunities to expand. The Fountain will continue to serve good food at a great price with the friendliest service around. I plan to manage The Fountain for as long as I am possibly able.
The Fountain had the honor of having a Forest City icon work as our dishwasher for 39 years. Everyone in Forest City loved George Ledford. George came to Forest City as a teenager and went to work at The Fountain not long after his arrival. Although George was born with cerebral palsy, he never let it steal his joy or determination. He always strived to work hard. George is memorialized in the mural painted by Clive Haynes on the side of the Graham Cash building. George retired in 2013 and passed away a year later. Upon George's passing, Mayor Dennis Tarlton and the Town Council instated 'George Ledford Day' in his memory. Second to George in longevity, Sheila Bailey has faithfully served our customers at The Fountain for 22 years."
Thank you Susan, for this detailed and interesting account of the history of The Fountain at Smith's Drugs and the legendary grilled pimento cheese sandwich. Mostly, thank you for the pimento cheese. :)