Watson’s In Old Towne Orange Will Close After 100 years?

A historic chapter for the restaurant that has been a landmark at Orange Plaza for generations will come to an end when Watson’s, the famous orange soda fountain that has been serving malts and hamburgers for more than a century, closes its doors. Owner Billy Skeffington predicted that Watson’s Soda Fountain and Cafe at its Chapman Avenue site would likely close in the coming weeks due to escalating rental and operating costs. According to the owner and social media, Hectors on the Circle would open in the space the following month.

But if Skeffington has anything to do with it, the Watson brand won’t go, he insisted. He asks Orange’s real estate agent, Al Ricci, to assist him in finding a place as he is already looking for new properties in the city’s historic district. Ricci stated that there are currently three candidates but declined to provide any further information regarding the precise sites. According to Ricci, he is seeking a restaurant that serves “a simpler hamburger and milkshakes from the ’50s.”

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On Friday, July 22, 2022, the famed Watson’s Soda Fountain in Orange Plaza will be open. Like many of the county’s oldest businesses, Watson’s, which first opened as a drugstore in 1899, has been a favourite in Orange for more than a century and still exudes nostalgia for days gone by. (Image courtesy of Orange County Register/SCNG/Mark Rightmire)

On Friday, July 22, 2022, the famed Watson’s Soda Fountain in Orange Plaza will be open. Like many of the county’s oldest businesses, Watson’s, which first opened as a drugstore in 1899, has been a favourite in Orange for more than a century and still exudes nostalgia for days gone by. (Image courtesy of Orange County Register/SCNG/Mark Rightmire) When Watson’s was first established in 1899 as a drugstore, it was a soda fountain. That is still the case today. It has served as a Hollywood set for movies like Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! and has drawn regulars over the years, including George W. Bush, who once stopped by for a malt.

And over the years, it has kept its nostalgic atmosphere. Skeffington meticulously renovated the house with a blend of old and new after purchasing it from the house’s longtime owner Scott Parker in 2015. Skeffington’s modernised, sophisticated diner atmosphere gave rise to new food and beverage alternatives. In order to serve specialised cocktails and dessert beverages, he secured an additional alcohol licence. However, despite having a stylish new menu and refurbished décor, the store was still unable to keep up with the increasing expenditures of operating the business.

When Parker sold Watson’s to Skeffington, he was already having trouble keeping up with the $14,000 rent and other costs of the business, according to Parker. “I was relieved to leave since I simply couldn’t stay there. And I spent 50 years there. Parker expressed his satisfaction with Skeffington’s renovations, which kept the charm of the building while showcasing certain historical artefacts. Parker said the improvements are what he would have loved to have made if he could have, but others worried about the diner’s rehabilitation.

According to Parker, “He’s been attacked for modifying things, but everything changes.” Jeff Young of Orange recalls years ago seeing “motorcycles and cars parked there on the sidewalk” and a patio in front of the soda fountain packed with patrons. But lately, the 72-year-old noted when he and his wife Debbie walked in to grab muffins, “the traffic at their store isn’t what it used to be.” He made the comment on Friday while sitting on a bench in Plaza Park near the roundabout.

Debbie Young emphasised that Watson’s is still a “institution” in orange. Since the 1970s, the pair has resided in the city, and they remember having breakfast and dinner there over the years. The Youngs have recently been enjoying the baked goods the most. The demand for some of the common stores that originally studded the circle in Old Towne Orange appears to have altered over time as new businesses come and leave, according to Debbie Young, who noted that there were less small shops and antique stores.

Parker blames growing local business rental expenses for the decline in the number of small shops. Small businesses can be priced out of the market as more eateries go up and competition for available space intensifies, he said. Jeff Young observed, remembering stores like Coco’s Bakery or Reuben’s or “a bunch of different eateries that just aren’t here anymore,” that it might simply be like anything else that exists in a time and place and eventually moves on.

He claimed that as generations change, so do things and people’s preferences. “And the things that were trendy then aren’t so popular right now. As a result, some locations disappear and new things appear. However, Old Towne Orange’s borough representative, Orange Councilwoman Arianna Barrios, thinks more has to be done to maintain the borough’s history and aesthetic, which are sought after by many companies as a prime site. She described the historic district as “one of the jewels in the United States in terms of public places,” adding, “We are the protectors of such things.”

“We are entitled to defend that. We are required to safeguard that, she continued. “In this way, we may impose requirements on the businesses that enter this region. It’s old-fashioned. We have to maintain a particular character. Barrios stated that she would also like to see the city develop means of assisting proprietors of historically significant enterprises like Watson’s maintain their history. Parker concurred, saying he hopes city officials find a solution quickly to keep Old Towne’s character-preserving shops, “because after a while, it gets destroyed.”

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