It was one thing to watch as the big-box stores put the screws to the mom-and-pop hardware stores, pharmacies, and gift shops, but now it's getting personal. Draeger's Candy and Ice Cream -- as far as we know, the East Side's only remaining old-fashioned ice-cream parlor and chocolate shop -- is closing in late December, so that a Walgreen's can gobble up its space near the end of a Van Aken Boulevard strip mall.
"It's hard to even talk about it," says Gerry Draeger, who, with her husband, Fred, has operated the family's sweet shop for decades. "The place has been here since 1953, and I really don't have a clue what we're going to do."
Infused with the aromas of freshly made chocolates and ice-cream sauces, Draeger's slightly shabby interior -- hot-pink walls, green vinyl booths, and deco-style lighting included -- channels an authentic 1950s vibe and holds sweet memories for scores of area boomers who, as children, could look forward to a phosphate, a milkshake, or a Daisy Almond sundae upon their return from a trip downtown on the Shaker Rapid.
Happily for nostalgia buffs, little has changed here (except for the prices) in the past half-century. As always, Draeger's waitresses provide tableside service and set each guest's place with a lacy paper doily and a small glass of water. Sodas, sundaes, and milkshakes are still served in real glassware, with honest-to-goodness metal spoons. And the homemade fudge sauce (the gold standard against which we will always judge all others) still arrives, hot or cold, in tiny individual pitchers. It's a level of graciousness and service that hardly any of today's ice-cream emporiums, no matter how good their offerings, care to emulate.
The Draegers, who are approaching retirement, have no plans to relocate. "At this stage in our lives," Gerry Draeger says, "we just don't feel like starting over." Nor do they have kids who are clamoring to carry on the family enterprise. Still, there is a small chance that the couple may resurrect the handmade-chocolates part of the business in the future, after taking what Gerry Draeger calls "some well-deserved time off."
At least for the time being, though, you'll find Draeger's at 20190 Van Aken Boulevard (216-751-1860) in Shaker Heights. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday -- plenty of time to savor one final tin roof sundae, for old time's sake.