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A series about Kansas City’s neighborhood hangouts and the customers who bring them to life. Tell us where to go next!

Meet the ice cream lovers at Clinton’s Soda Fountain in Independence

A man in a grey shirt and a woman in a red shirt sit at a table with cherry red chairs. Behind them is a sign that reads "Clinton's Old Fashioned Soda Fountain and Gift Shop."
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Ed and Monja Calvery stopped into Clinton's to try out the ice cream. They're already fans of the phosphates and old-school feel.

Clinton’s Soda Fountain has been a pillar of the Independence community since the 1980s for its ice cream and nostalgic feel. As a teenager, President Harry Truman worked in the same building at a different ice cream shop.

This story is part of an occasional KCUR series called The Regulars, about Kansas City’s neighborhood hangouts and the customers who bring them to life.

On a sweltering afternoon in Independence, Missouri, customers trickle into Clinton’s Soda Fountain to cool off with a malt or an ice cream cone.

Customers sit at a 100-year-old marble countertop with a wooden backdrop that came from another soda fountain. Cherry red chairs on a checkerboard floor transport patrons to the past.

Clinton’s was opened in 1988, but its history goes back decades further. President Harry S. Truman worked at the Crown Drug Store's pharmacy and soda fountain in the same building when he was young.

That history first brought Nanci Burchell to the shop. She later brought her husband, Stan, for a summer date.

“I always say, get a malt, get a shake or something like that — not just ice cream, even though that's what they serve,” Nanci Burchell said. “Because that's what's been here for a long, long time.”

Candy sits on a bar. Behind it is a large mirror framed with solid wood and ice cream-making equipment.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Clinton's was opened in 1988. The marble bar and solid wood framing were sourced from other soda fountains to give it a historic feel.

Clinton’s is also one of the few remaining ice cream shops to serve phosphates — the predecessor to a milkshake is made with carbonated water, phosphoric acid and flavorings.

Huddled in a corner booth, the Burchells discussed other activities they’d do in Independence that day. Both agreed — especially Stan, who Nanci describes as “an ice cream fiend” — that ice cream is the secret to a long marriage.

Brandy Fisher and Greg Smith come to the Independence Square often for ice cream. Sitting together near a window that overlooks the Jackson County Courthouse, the couple watched the crowds go by while they ate.

Fisher ordered mint chocolate chip ice cream nachos — ice cream with syrup and waffle chips served in a nacho tray. But Smith always gets the same thing: a peanut butter ice cream sundae. He says Clinton’s is the best he’s ever had.

A woman and man smile while sitting behind a bar at an ice cream shop.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Greg Smith and Brandi Fisher say Clinton's has some of the best ice cream they've tried. The ice cream shop gives them pride in Independence.

For Fisher and Smith, stopping at Clinton’s while shopping around the Square is more meaningful than just ice cream — it’s about having pride in Independence.

“Independence is super underrated,” Fisher said. “People always talk kind of bad about it. We live here and it hurts my feelings when people do that. But then we come down here and there's really good food at Clinton's and then Dave's Bakery, Square Pizza — it's all just really good food and a good atmosphere.”

Truman’s legacy bring lots of tourists to Clinton’s, even though he only worked at the shop for a few months.

On any given day, you could find a regular at the bar chatting with the staff while a group coming from a mule-lead pioneer-themed tour, the 1859 Jail Museum, the Victorian-era Vaile Mansion, or the Truman Home and Library stop in for a treat. Clinton’s is close to all those sites and operates as a sort of rest stop for sweet-toothed travelers.

A brick exterior has a mural painted that says "you can't buy me love but you can buy me ice cream."
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The central location of Clinton's keeps customers coming back. Its connection to President Harry Truman keeps new patrons flowing in.

Ed and Monja Calvert tried Clinton’s for the first time earlier this month and immediately felt at home.

“It does feel very familiar,” Monja Calvert said. “We know all about the Harry Truman legacy, the whole bit. It still has that same appearance, all of the shelving and everything. It looks very, old-timey — it's beautiful. It just feels comfortable in here.”

Monja got a cookie dough sundae and Ed got a phosphate. The Calverts are already planning to come back, thanks to the comfort and nostalgia that the menu and decor invoke.

For Rebecca Jones and her friend Sonya, Clinton’s is a place to catch up. Jones loves the ice cream nachos, but this time decided to order a Butterfinger shake. Sonya got a banana split with all vanilla ice cream instead of the usual three flavors.

“We started meeting up here within the last 6 to 8 months because we stopped working together,” Jones said. “So we just was looking for something where we could get a snack and visit. This was our first choice and we've come back several times since.”

A banana split sits on a marble counter
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Clinton's has old-school soda fountain favorites like banana splits and phosphates, but also offers new concoctions — like cake shakes or ice cream nachos.

Michael Smith, the manager at Clinton’s, prides himself on creating an environment that encourages people to come back. The staff are happy to customize any order or just chat with regulars like they’re old friends — because at Clinton’s, they are.

One of Smith’s favorite memories is of a couple who came in every year to share a banana split in the middle of winter. One time, when Clinton’s was out of bananas, the couple brought in a bunch themselves so that Smith could make them theirs and an order for anyone else having a cold-weather banana split craving.

“Clinton's is a very core part of the community,” Smith said. “A lot of people meet up here, it’s a good little hangout spot. I think that's also why I appreciate it because even some of my friends who don't hang out in this area will come here just to eat ice cream and hang out and talk. It's just a nice little place to be.”

What Kansas City establishment should KCUR visit next? Tell us here!

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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