Out and About


Out and About: Go back in time at Cole Drug in Big Timber

Out and About: Go back in time at Cole Drug
Cole Drug in Big Timber
Posted at 11:15 AM, Sep 01, 2022

BIG TIMBER — There are not many places left in Montana that you can walk into and be taken back to the 1930s, but at Cole Drug in Big Timber, you get the full experience. It has a soda fountain and pharmacy all in one.

It's a historical hidden gem in a small Montana town. Since its opening in 1935, the store continues to be a place to pick up a prescription and grab a sweet treat.

“We just get a lot of questions about the history of it,” Taylor Wagner said recently. Wagner has worked at Cole Drug for about seven months and admitted she did not know much about the history of the building.

Cole Drug in Big Timber

That's where Shirley Esp comes in. Esp is now 91 and worked behind the fountain making milkshakes and sundaes in 1945.

“We would be open until 10:30 at night if there was a movie or something on so that people could come in and have coffee and a treat after the movie,” Esp said.

Esp could not think of anyone else still in Big Timber that had worked with her at the time. She worked there through high school and into her young adulthood.

“They had a little nook up above in the corner, and Mr. Cole would look down on us there to see that we were doing things right, I’m sure,” she said.

Her mother also worked there at the time as a cook, serving a plate lunch every day for just 75 cents.

“It was in the good old days. Yeah," Esp said while laughing.

Although times have changed in the past 87 years - prices have gone up and new workers are behind the bar - the magic still remains in the building.

Out and About: Go back in time at Cole Drug

Wagner works at Cole Drug in the summers when she is home from college. She makes milkshakes and sundaes behind the fountain, just like Esp used to do so many years ago.

“It’s pretty cool,” Wagner said about working in such a historic location.

It's a place stuck in the past but still very popular today.

“Afternoon time gets busy,” said Wagner.

And it is just as vital to the community as it was when it first opened almost 90 years ago. It is the only drug store left in town.

“It was a good time. A good time to be working and doing things you enjoyed,” Esp said.