By Kevin Thornton
One of the oldest remaining businesses in Irving recently reopened under a new owner. Big State Drug was a popular 1950s soda shop and drugstore. It has been a centerpiece of Irving life for decades. After being forced to close due to financial difficulties, a new owner has stepped in to try to save this Irving landmark. The altered Big State Fountain and Grill has taken its place.
Irving resident Rick Fairless took over Big State in May, revamping and renovating the restaurant. Fairless has previous restaurant experience as the owner of Strokers, a popular Irving motorcycle shop and bar. He was given $100,000 by the Irving City Council to aid the resurrection of the historic drugstore. The renovation of Big State Drug included some major changes, beginning with the name. The eatery now goes by Big State Fountain and Grill. The store now focuses on food service and a humble gift shop pays tribute to the past. Customers can now order a variety of coffee drinks and snow cones. Attempting to maintain the ‘50s vibe, Fairless added colorful tile, red vinyl seating and chrome-rimmed tables. A motorcycle and an Elvis cutout now stand in the buildings windows.
“You’re gonna know that you’re entering a historic place,” Fairless said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.
Big State Drug was a mainstay in Irving for 66 years. Opening shortly after World War II, this drugstore also had a soda fountain with a couple of tables. Located at 100 E. Irving Blvd., the store was first opened by Clay and Jean Burney in 1948. The Burneys converted the B&H Dry Goods Store into a pharmacy, complete with a soda fountain, a jukebox and even air conditioning.
Some regulars have been going to Big State for decades. Due to the personal attachment of many longtime customers, some Irving residents are apprehensive about the changes made.
Two Irving residents, Ray and Sudie McCoy, have eaten there since the 1960s.
“Big State was an icon. It never really changed much. It was kind of the same layout then and people expected it that way,” Sudie McCoy said. “They wanted something to hold on to. It was something from the past that you could look back at.”
It was a place that residents visited regularly, often spending hours at a time there.
“My uncle Joe would go in there and sit all day and drink coffee and visit with anyone who came in,” said Ray McCoy. “Pretty soon he found out he didn’t have much of a business left. But if you don’t look after your own, then it falls apart.”
The drugstore and soda fountain has a welcoming atmosphere that goes beyond its appearance. University of Dallas senior Tori Howell, an Irving resident and employee of Big State until its recent closing, felt that the old Big State put its people before everything else, something she believes is often missing in modern businesses.
“Big State was about people. Not as much about food or medicine, it was a people thing,” Howell said. “The same people come in at the same time every week or every day. You get to know about them and their families and their problems and they start to care about you.”
This was the Irving tradition and historic relic that Howell, along with many others, knew and loved. It was hard for some regulars to watch such a social and iconic place go. Even though it reopened under new management, Howell fears that after undergoing such extensive renovations, it cannot replace what the old drugstore represented.
“It isn’t the same, it won’t be the same. I think people expected it to be the opening of the same place, but it’s not,” Howell said. “It’s just a restaurant now, it doesn’t matter that it’s Big State Fountain and Grill. It’s not Big State Drug.”
Big State Drug has long been an institution in Irving. Only time will tell whether Rick Fairless’s new Big State Fountain and Grill will live up to the legacy of its predecessor.