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A Brief History of Movie Theater Concessions

It wasn't always like this. Back in the silent movie era, concessions were not sold inside theaters and hungry moviegoers would instead rely on independent popcorn and peanut vendors who hawked their wares on the streets outside. Movie palace owners of the twenties and thirties, keen to maintain a pristine, classy establishment, had no time for the cheap and tacky snack foods that were hitherto the preserve of burlesque shows and street corner nickleodeons. And then came the Great Depression...

Strapped for cash and eager to develop new revenue streams, theater owners began to look anew at the potential of freshly popped popcorn. By the mid-1930s, new technology made popcorn production cheap and easy - theaters could sell at 10 cents a bag and still turn a nice profit. In the late thirties new candies and snacks such as Juicy Fruits and Milk Duds were beginning to become available and the candy counter became a familiar feature at the local theater.

Rationing of sugar during the second world war however, meant that candy bars became scarce at concession stands and popcorn became even more popular as a result. The late 1940's and early 1950's saw the emergence of soft drinks as a common refreshment at movie houses throughout the country and, while ticket sales were down during this time, sales of food at concession stands increased dramatically. Theater owners introduced intermissions in the middle of popular movies in an attempt to encourage moviegoers to visit the lobby.

The popularity of drive-in theaters in the late 1950's and 1960's led to an increase in the range of foods offered to moviegoers - hot dogs and burgers first became available to car-bound audiences. The emergence of the large multiplex theaters in the late 1970s and 1980s saw the continued expansion of the concession stand and concession menu. Many movie theaters now offer gourmet coffee, made-to-order pizzas and chicken wings in order to satisy growing demand for variety in dining options. The old reliables remain the most popular for consumers however, and it seems that wherever there's a movie playing you'll notice the familiar aroma of popcorn a 'poppin.

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