3 Fading American Traditions - The Urban Menu
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3 Fading American Traditions

3 Fading American Traditions 

During the last century, we saw the establishment of a number of American staples, ranging from soda fountains to outdoor theaters. However, over the last few years, these once seemingly-eternal traditions have started dying down. In this blog, we will be looking at a few of these fading American traditions.

1) Soda fountains in drugstores

Even though contemporary soda fountains are regularly found in fast food restaurants and food courts in shopping malls, they were initially a lot more common in the neighborhood corner stores. These soda fountains came about during the early 19th century and quickly became an essential aspect of almost every drugstore service counter across the country. Also known as ‘soda jerks’, these fountains served ice cream sodas, egg creams, and other carbonated drinks to the patrons.

The growing popularity of these soda fountains saw them pop up in all kinds of businesses, ranging from department stores to pharmacies. Within a small amount of time, soda counters had become communal spaces, allowing people to socialize and have lunch with their friends between working hours. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, soda fountains had become so popular that a lot of business owners went for bar expansions and transformed them into comprehensive lunch counters. Alongside carbonated drinks, these counters would also offer light meals.

However, the advent of self-service drugstores meant that soda counters quickly started to become obsolete. Stores wanted to focus more on self-service and high turnover, considering the high premium that was being endured for shelf and floor space. Consequently, soda fountains and lunch counters started disappearing from stores, and, extensionally, from mainstream culture. Today, a few novelty pharmacies might still house soda counters, but they have by and large vanished from almost every major chain pharmacy.

2) Department stores

To say that department stores have become extinct in the US would be pretty wrong, but we cannot deny that they have seen a steady decline since the mid-1900s. Britain was the first to introduce these department stores during the last few years of the 18th century. However, it would take almost another century for the stores to become popular in both Britain and the US.

However, once department stores started gaining momentum, it did not take long for them to revolutionize the shopping experience for middle-class Americans. Women, in particular, discovered that they now had the opportunity to make frequent trips to department stores without affecting their reputation (as was common in the earlier days).

Therefore, department stores led to new and unparalleled opportunities for both consumers and retailers alike. The stores would house ready-made products for females, sparing women the effort of buying a piece of fabric and then finding a dressmaker who would turn it into attire. Ready-made dresses allowed women to enjoy the immediate gratification that consumers desire during shopping.

The early 1900s saw a consistent increase in popularity for department stores. Products belonging to stores like Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus becoming the very symbol of financial success for a lot of middle-class families. However, the arrival of the 21st century saw these department stores succumb to the power and convenience of e-commerce as well as shifting consumer trends. It is predicted that around 20% of department stores across America will shut down in the next two years.

3) Drive-in theaters

People who spent their childhood during the 1950s and 60s would remember the excitement of visiting the drive-in. Even though drive-in theaters were at their peak during the middle of the 19th century, they were actually introduced in the year 1932 by a New Jersey salesman named Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr. Hollingshead was running his father’s company when the idea of an outdoor theater popped up in his mind. He decided to host the very first outdoor movie night in 1932, using nothing but a Kodak projector, a white sheet, and the hood of the family car.

Once Hollingshead had figured out a way to elevate cars in rows that would allow every car to view the screen, he placed an application for a US patent which was approved the next year in 1933. The same year, he opened the first drive-in outdoor theater, where the movie Wives Beware was put up for viewing. The charges at the time were 0.25 for each car and 0.25 for each person, with a ceiling of $1.

The idea of a drive-in theater spread like wildfire during the mid-1950s. By 1958, the US had a total of approximately 4,100 such theaters. Many of these theaters upgraded their ways and started offering various other amenities, including attendants capable of performing vehicle checks, and food trays that attendees could attach to the sides of their vehicles. However, the fall of the drive-in theater was almost as rapid as its rise: the arrival of home movie systems became a serious challenge for the drive-in theater during the 1970s. By 2018, mere 330 outdoor theaters had managed to survive – including the one in Santee, San Diego.  

Final Word

There you have it, a throwback to some of the most popular American traditions during the bygone years and centuries. Have you ever used a soda fountain or experienced a drive-in movie theater? We would love to know your experiences, as well as any traditions that we might have missed.

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