By TIFFANY RONEY
Soft-serve ice cream in old-fashioned glasses.
A place to sit on barstools with a friend and order green rivers and Coca Colas.
A business where the owner cares for his customers and sees them each as human beings with needs.
All this and more is provided by Bankes Health Mart, a drugstore that has one of 38 operating soda fountains in Kansas.
After 68 years in Abilene under the Bankes family’s ownership, the drugstore and soda fountain is changing hands. Michael W. Burns, president of AuBurn Pharmacy, receives the reins as longtime owner Bud Bankes begins his retirement.
“I’ve been trying to do this for quite some time, but people I’ve had come by that were interested in buying, for one reason or another just didn’t quite all click, and Mr. Burns came in, and we had a talk, and I was very impressed with him,” Bankes said. “I think he will carry the business like I would have it to be continued. So, we made a deal, and here we go.”
Bankes grew up in the drugstore since his family moved the store from Salina to Abilene when he was 5 years old. He started helping his parents when he was old enough to wash dishes, and as soon as he could reach over the top of the sink, he was promoted to grinding ice.
“It was the place everybody came to be and meet and greet and socialize,” Bankes said of the old fashioned soda fountain in the drugstore. “We stayed open Saturday nights because there was a late feature at the movie, and so when the
movie got out at 9, they would all come to the soda fountain and have a treat before they would go home on Saturday night. It was pretty much a blur most of the time – you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, living the dream.”
Mitzi Gose, Bankes’ youngest daughter, said her father ran the store with such a customer-first attitude that when someone called in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner needing medication, he left the house and took care of the person’s need.
Teddi Domann, Bud’s older daughter, said stories like these happened hundreds, if not thousands of times over the 45 years her father ran the store. She said he went back into the store late at night to pick up and deliver medication; whether it was because the medication was needed for sudden pain, or if it was because the person simply forgot to pick it up.
“Well, people don’t get sick between 9 and 5, and if you’re going to be a human being, hopefully you’re going to reach out to those in need,” Bankes said. “We do our ever-loving best to take care of our customers, whatever that need was.”
Bankes said he does not see this kind of service in most businesses today. He said it seems like many businesses leave customers on their own instead of treating them with courtesy and concern.
“It’s, ‘Either take what we offer or nothing,’” Bankes said. “I don’t do that business, and Mr. Burns does not either. He’s a very committed service person, and I’m very happy to be selling to Mr. Burns because of that.”
Bankes said Burns has agreed to continue sponsoring the Bankes Barrel Racing Team, which gives amateurs the opportunity to compete in the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo and, if they place, receive the same prize money they would have won if they were competing as professionals.
With his newfound spare time, Bankes plans to delve into his hobby of landscaping by beautifying his property and his children’s yards, including the lawn of Domann and her husband, Craig, in Colorado Springs. He will likely travel with his wife, Linda, and he also plans to accomplish tasks on her “honey-do” list, the first of which is to repair a half mile of fence.
On Friday, he will be occupied with celebrating his retirement with a reception at the drugstore and soda fountain from 2-6 p.m. He said Linda is bringing cake, Burns will attend and the public is invited.
“I wanted to just fade off into the sunset,” he said, “but no, we’ve got to make a big deal of out of this.”
Scott Bankes, Bud’s son, said he is optimistic about the pharmacy’s coming years.
“I’m really glad that he’s able to find somebody that wants to keep the stores the way they were, to keep the family atmosphere, to keep all the staff,” Scott said. “I know they expect them to have that local touch and local feel, and I think it’s vitally important.”