Peach Nehi floats are the icon of Iconium, Mo.

07/07/2013 12:04 AM

07/07/2013 12:04 AM

Take a right just past the Toadsuck Grill

coming into this little town and you’ll drive right into the frame of a vintage photograph.

A small-town general store sits at the end of the block. Single gas pump out front, awning reaching to the street, groceries, work gloves and cold soda pop.

Time it right and maybe an old dog will be asleep on the porch.

This is

Scott’s Iconium Store

, and it’s been around since the 1880s in this town about a hundred miles southeast of Kansas City. New owners took over earlier this year. No, his name isn’t Sam. Or Ike. You’re pushing.

But Shannon Tucker and his wife, Nikki, did “audition” a year before the couple who ran the place for more than three decades would sell it to them. They refused to turn it over to just anyone.

So what is it about this old store? Why is it still going when most like it crumbled to the ground a long time ago as America raced past to get to fancy places with shopping carts and automatic doors?

Well, it sure isn’t the Iconium population, because 35 won’t cut it.

But serving a thousand

Peach Nehi

ice cream floats in a single day, now that will keep the doors open.

Some of you are going —

a thousand?

The rest are going —

Peach Nehi ?

Yes and yes.

Here’s the deal: Ask any Boy Scout in the area under 50 or Scout leader under 75 about a Peach Nehi float. Then wait for the smile.

“That little store down in Iconium,” they’ll say.

For decades, Scouts have hiked the mile or so from the

H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation

to the store, which sits just past the new fire station the town built when the old one burned down last year.

They come for the famous float. It’s practically a merit badge. On weekends, hundreds of Scouts, parents and siblings — at times more than a thousand — gather at Scott’s store for food and ice cream.

“They said I had to get a Peach Nehi float,” Aidan Patton, an 11-year-old Scout from Kansas City, said as he slurped away last week outside the crowded store. “Glad they did. It’s great!”

Grown-ups get their share, too.

Rick Pearson, who drives down from Independence so his son, Blake, 13, can play his guitar and sing for tips on the front porch of the house next to the store, put it another way.

“Nothing like sucking on peach floats until your shorts get tight,” he said with a hearty laugh.

OK, if Blake is ever looking for song lyrics, maybe he can put that to music.

The store will serve up 20,000 peach floats over a summer. At $2.50 a pop.

Shannon Tucker, the new owner, pulled open the door of the big wooden refrigerator built in 1943. Inside are rows of gallons of soft-serve vanilla ice cream.

“It’s nothing to go through a hundred of these in a day,” he said.

And to think it all started from futility. On a hot summer day back in the 1970s, then-store proprietor Ginger Scott, tired of looking at some dust-covered Peach Nehi a distributor had left her, handed two cans to a couple of Scouts eating vanilla ice cream out on the stoop.

One poured his on the ice cream.

“He loved it and told his friends,” Scott said. “It went from there.”

Today, Scott’s Iconium Store, which derives about half its business from the Scout camp, is, according to the business’s website, one of the largest sellers of Peach Nehi west of the Mississippi. The store also sells the drink online. At any given time, eight to 10 pallets of 12-packs sit on the concrete floor of a shed out back.

Most grocery stores around Kansas City don’t carry it, and Tucker is guarded about how he manages to get so much of the somewhat obscure beverage. Sort of like he’s part of the Peach Nehi cartel.

All he would say is that the shipments don’t come from anywhere around here.

“I learned from the former owners to keep that part quiet,” he said.

Local landmark

Nobody can remember when the store wasn’t there.

It long predates the Scout camp, which opened in 1929. Ginger Scott and her husband, Wayne, ran the place for 35 years until they sold it this year. His parents ran it before that, buying it when he was 3.

“I pretty much grew up on these floors,” said Wayne Scott, 69.

It wasn’t exactly A on coupon day. To make ends meet, he farmed and baled hay for himself and other farmers in the county.

“Ginger was here every day for 35 years,” Wayne said. “That’s why we can’t go anywhere without somebody recognizing her.”

His wife smiled.

“I don’t get to shop in Kansas City often,” Ginger said. “But when I do, somebody will always call out my name in a store.”

They probably called out “Grandma.” That’s what Scouts took to calling her, especially the staff Scouts who stayed all summer. Away from their mom and dad for the first time. She cured the homesick with good food and a hug.

“They were my boys, and I like that they remember me,” Ginger said. “They bring their own kids in now. I was in England once and this man came up to me and said, ‘You’re Ginger, aren’t you?’”

She smiled at the memory.

But the store got to be too much. The Scotts insisted, though, that it go to somebody who would love the store and take care of it — it’s like they were finding a home for the family dog. A couple of early candidates didn’t pass the test.

That’s when they went to Shannon Tucker, whom they knew from camp. But he was married, living in Kansas City and running his own computer business. His wife, Nikki, worked at a veterinary clinic, and they had a newly adopted baby.

They wouldn’t just pack up and leave the big city for a town of 35. Would they?

“I came home from work one day and Shannon asked me what I would think about moving to a small town and running a country store,” said Nikki Tucker, 35. “I told him, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’

“He said, ‘Good. We’ve got an interview Thursday.’”

The Tuckers ran the place a year before the Scotts agreed to sell to them in February. The deal didn’t include the red pop machine that’s been in the store since the 1940s.

“That’s family,” Wayne said, shaking his head.

But it’s still there, sort of a lend-lease arrangement.

The store, which provides first jobs for many teens in the area, has about 65 Scouting days a year. The rest of the business comes from selling groceries, hardware and beer to locals. Shannon Tucker repairs computers in the back. Locals gather for coffee, and the Tuckers also run a laundromat across the street.

The new owners worried early on about fitting in.

“This place has been here forever, and now here comes these new people from the city,” Shannon said.

But they’re doing fine, said longtime store employee Cheryl Mann.

“If the store’s closed and somebody really needs something, they’ll come over and open up,” Mann said. “You want to run a store like this, you got to do things like that.”

Is life perfect? No. Nikki Tucker says she misses friends in the city and she can’t buy shoes anywhere close. And the other day, a guy pulled in on a combine and took all their gas.

“But my job is 15 feet from home,” she said. “We spend a lot of time with our son now. We couldn’t do that in the city.

“And I’m learning about life in a small town. I’m learning to wave at everyone.”

An afternoon of Americana

It’s 11 a.m. Sunday, and Iconium looks like a town of 35.

Three hours later, it might be 20 times that. Traffic snarls on the main drag, cars fill a nearby field, people walk up from all directions. The line at the store’s serving window stretches down the street.

Light breeze and 80 degrees. Rick Pearson’s son, Blake, lets loose with “That’s All Right, Mama” from the Tuckers’ front porch. Scouts and families fill picnic tables in the yard. Shoppers crowd aisles to get to the Scout merchandise in the back of the store. More than 20 employees hustle to keep up with orders for burgers, pizza and ice cream.

This is what Wayne Scott calls “gravy time” for the store.

No time for locals to run out of milk.

“Oh no, we would never go over there on Sunday,” Jeanine Jacomb says at her house across the street. “You learn to plan in the summertime.”

John Milam of Lee’s Summit walks to his car with a peach float in hand. He and his college-age son attended Bartle several years. They wanted to see the camp again.

And since they’re so close

“I used to get four of five of these floats each year,” Milam says, spoon in hand. “I miss them.”

Scout mom Amy Watz of Kansas City lugs three 12-packs of Peach Nehi to her car.

“Kids love it,” she said, “and I can’t find it anywhere else.”

At the end of the block, members of the Fire Department collect donations from cars pulling into town. That’s partly how they paid for the new station.

Wayne Scott, the former owner, stands outside and takes in the day and the overflow crowd.

“If they (the Tuckers) need help, we’re here,” he said. “If they don’t, well, we had our time.”

Things seem fine at the old store. It probably will stay that way as long as Scouts come through the woods and the Peach Nehi truck keeps showing up.