Discover more from The Retrologist by Rolando Pujol
'Tombstone' for home of first Arby's, but it's not 'grave' news; forget Grimace, meet CosMc; Hills stores' tasty 'comeback;' Starlite dims in 'Andy Griffith' country | Retrologist Roundup
PLUS: Enjoy almost two dozen more headlines from the great American roadside!
You may have heard the news that McDonald’s plans to build a new set of smaller restaurants named after an obscure commercial character from the late 1980s called CosMc (pronounced Cosmic.)
Beyond that, very little has been revealed, including what CosMc’s would look like, though the restaurants will have the chain’s “DNA” while displaying its own personality, all within a limited geographic area to start.
Part of me wonders whether this — yet again — is some strange but brilliant marketing stunt, albeit with a character that is much more obscure than Grimace, whose birthday-shake celebration generated a whirlwind of excitement among customers and TikTokers — and a McFlurry of profits for McDonald’s. (If you’re unfamiliar with CosMc, don’t feel bad — I was baffled, too. He’s a flying robot alien obsessed with McDonald’s, and you can see him here or in the below commercial that introduced him.)
It’s unclear how committed McDonald’s is to this new concept, which is clearly driven by nostalgia, which McDonald’s has finally realized is at the core of its business. I would hope the architecture of these CosMc buildings — should they ever materialize — might play off what McDonald’s looked like when CosMc was introduced. I’m talking, of course, about our beloved and close-to-annihilated mansards.
Up in Orange, Connecticut, the other day, I visited a nice mansard that’s been left fairly untouched. I purchased a Grimace Shake for the road (this was in June) and looked around a bit. I absolutely love the quirky amusement park theme at this McDonald’s. It’s a vivid reminder of the days when McDonald’s stores — though largely the same outside — could indulge in regional quirkiness inside. (And, yes, sometimes outside.)
Now back to CosMc and Grimace. According to McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski: “Grimace has been everywhere in the past few months … this viral phenomenon is yet another proof point of the power of marketing at McDonald’s today.”
Indeed, revenue in the second quarter exceeded analysts’ expectations, clocking in at $6.5 billion, with a 14% increase in net sales over last year.
Nostalgia is helping to drive all this consumer spending at McDonald’s, and hopefully, nostalgia will drive its future architectural designs.
ICEE what you’re doing! Nostalgic Pennsylvanian brings back Hills department store snack bar — as a food truck
If you grew up with Hills department stores and, like a lot of people, miss the popular discounter, this post is going to make your day, week, month, maybe year.
Hills nostalgia, of course, has been strong since the chain closed in 1999. Back in 2016, the hilarious Pittsburgh Dad traveled back to 1989 in one of his popular YouTube videos, stopping at Hills to grab some goodies at the snack bar.
Jason Powell of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, has worked some nostalgic magic, the closest thing to Pittsburgh Dad’s DMC DeLorean, bringing back a key aspect of the Hills experience — the snack bar. And his time machine is a food truck. (And yes, this is no Ames “comeback.”)
The Hills Snack Bar truck is making the rounds in Western Pennsylvania near former Hills’ stores. The next snack bar appearance is planned for Sunday, Aug. 27, at Big Sewickley Creek Brewery, 2030 Big Sewickley Creek Road, Economy, Pennsylvania. Here’s the full list of upcoming events.
Powell plans to expand beyond Pennsylvania, as Hills was in neighboring states, including West Virginia, Ohio and New York, but getting permits takes time.
I’m going to try to make one of these events and will report back.
Do you have memories of Hills? Please comment below:
A case for Sheriff Taylor! ‘Great Sign’ knockoff for Starlite Motel in Mount Airy, N.C., covered up by Aunt Bea — kind of
I find myself in Mount Airy, North Carolina, from time to time. One of the stars of the architectural firmament of “Andy Griffith Country” has long been the Starlite (once spelled Star-Lite) Motel, particularly its sign, which, like so many at midcentury, is based on the “Great Sign” from Holiday Inn.
Those Holiday Inn signs are long gone, purged in the 1980s when the company decided they were much too dated to represent the chain. (A taste of what we lost shines at American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.) But mom-and-pop versions of the Great Sign can still be found — I posted another one last week — and I love visiting them.
A post in the Holiday Inn Great Sign Facebook group reveals the name on Starlite sign has been covered up, rendering it decidedly unphotogenic, which is unfortunate.
According to the readerboard outside, the sign has new owners and a new name, Bea’s Parkway Inn, playing off the proximity to “Mayberry,” as this is Griffith’s hometown, which trades on “Andy Griffith Show” nostalgia. (I plan to do a write-up on the “Andy Griffith” experience here down the road.)
On Booking.com, it’s now Bea’s Parkway Inn, even though the street is still Starlite Road. (The original Starlite owner also owned a similarly named restaurant business.)
Starlite was once a very popular name for mom-and-pop motels, and I’m sorry to see this one blink out.
I can only hope the sign is restored properly — let’s make Aunt Bea (well, Bee, as I was reminded it’s spelled on the show) proud!
Sing it with me: ‘There’s something about a train …’
“There’s something about a train, there’s something about a train, that’s magic!”
Ted Anthony’s latest Substack piece had me thinking about one of my favorite commercial jingles of the 1980s, belted out by Richie Havens for Amtrak.
Ted contemplates the wonders of train travel from the perspective of the worlds we glimpse as we pass by, worlds we miss traveling any other way. Give it a read and give Ted a follow to enjoy great writing that makes you think.
‘Grave’ news: New business moves into home of the first Arby’s, in Boardman, Ohio
July 23, 1964, was a delicious day in the history of American fast food. That’s the day the Raffel Brothers opened the first Arby’s on Route 224 in Boardman, Ohio.
Their very names are preserved (concealed, really) in the brand’s identity. Arby’s stands for RBs, the initials for Raffel Brothers.
An advertising campaign in the early 1980s implanted the now unshakable idea that Arby’s stands for America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir! Perhaps that’s the case in some unsung marketer’s mind, but it’s actually a sly nod to Forrest and Leroy Raffel. Back in 2021, I made a pilgrimage to Boardman to visit the place where it all began.
The Conestoga wagon building is still there, and for 27 years, until 2021, it was home to Wild Birds Unlimited. And now, a new business is moving in there — Artcraft Materials, which sells gravestones. Fortunately, the building was reused, and the original form is hard to miss.
The designation of Store No. 1 has been moved to a working Arby’s restaurant across the street, which was rebuilt in 2016 and officially reopened that December.
To mark the occasion, a township supervisor designated Boardman as “Meat Town USA.”
The new owner, Gary Ventling, should at the very least install a memorial to the original Arby’s.
Signposts up ahead!
CBS News shines a light on the restoration of the Threatt Filling Station, which was once the only Black-owned gas station on Route 66, a haven in the era of Jim Crow. The structure in Luther, Oklahoma, was listed as endangered, but before it could disappear, the HOPE Crew — in this case, HOPE stands for Hands-On Preservation Experience — stepped in.
Speaking of old service stations, a historic one in Florida built by the Standard Oil Co. in the 1920s has been purchased and will be restored after a period of neglect. Fox 13 reports it’s similar to one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that is operated by that city.
Other Florida structures aren’t in such good hands. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation has announced its “11 to Save” list for 2023.
We’ll stay in Florida and report that Al Capone’s mansion in Miami Beach has been demolished despite a preservationist push.
Just in! Aldi is buying the parent of Winn-Dixie and Harvey supermarkets. While Aldi is converting some of the almost 400 stores to its name, the Winn-Dixie and Harvey names will not disappear.
The city of Auburn, New York, has acquired the Hunter Dinerant — acquire is the word, not buy, because they paid nothing for it. I stopped by and snapped this photo in 2019. Dinerant — a portmanteau of diner and restaurant — is such a lovely word. I reported on the closure of the diner back in December.
Fans of “The Sopranos” with deep pockets and a love of deep ocean waters may want to read this story. Tony Soprano’s boat, “The Stugots,” is for sale for $299,000, though it’s no longer called that for reasons you might understand if you know what stugots means in Italian.
Lewiston, Minnesota, seeks to draw visitors with new murals and old ghost signs.
And much the same is happening in Billings, Montana.
A giant statue of a Native American chief is on the move from its longtime home in Massachusetts’ Mohawk Trail to Vinita, Oklahoma, on Route 66, where it will stand at the Hi-Way Cafe. I photographed the Hi-Way Cafe a while back. It will join “Big Bill,” a “muffler man” on the property. A change.org petition last year called for the statue’s removal over “racist stereotyping.” More news coverage HERE and HERE.
Charlotte, North Carolina, is about to lose a building from the 1930s that now looks like a “2004 Taco Bell” and was last home to a gentleman’s club. Check it out in the really interesting North Carolina Rabbit Hole Substack.
The long-abandoned Amboy Cinemas in New Jersey is finally being demolished. I’ve passed it hundreds of times and never pulled over, as it’s not a particularly easy thing to do. The last time I drove by, I snapped a shot with my camera, and this blurry image is what the sensor captured. Better than nothing, I suppose. I may still try to get out there if this portion of the facade is still intact.
An exhibit in Hong Kong celebrates its neon signs, which have long been fading from the streetscape after once so vividly enlivening it.
“Hollywood Signs: The Golden Age, Glittering Graphics and Glowing Neon,” a new book by my friend Kathy Kikkert, is a must-buy for folks who love roadside Americana. The Orange County Register gives you a taste of her book, which you can buy here.
A beloved sign in Ukiah, California, for the defunct Mr. Frosties hamburger stand has been saved, restored and moved to a new (and thankfully public) location. Plans to keep it in Ukiah fell through, and the neon has been swapped for LED, but what matters is that the sign still stands.
Old Style beer privilege signs are a cherished marker of street life in the Midwest. Now comes the good news that the beer will be brewed again in its original home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where it was last regularly made over two decades ago. Moreover, the “World’s Largest Six-Pack” at the plant could again feature the Old Style design.
Austin’s State Theatre is getting a big overhaul.
Whenever I post about Dairy Queen, I’m reminded to visit the Port Colborne legacy shop in Canada. Its neon sign is being restored. Word on the street was that the sign could NEVER be restored because taking it down would force the owner to replace it with a modern DQ swoosh sign. (Corporate isn’t sentimental about the old stores and signage, alas.) The owner told In Niagara Region:
In regards to the sign we’re actually having a 70-year anniversary next year and we’re going to be re-lighting that sign. I’ve already have a contract with a neon company and a sign restoration company to do so – it’s not going to be removed from the roof and I’m not going to have to have my franchise contract revoked.”
A defunct location of Chicago’s Golden Nugget Pancake House chain might have a future as a drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts. The store opened in the 1970s and had seen a decline in business during the pandemic. Once a 24-hour joint, the restaurant had scaled back its hours even before the pandemic.
This archival video is like a John Baeder painting come to life. KETV in Omaha, Nebraska, opens its archive to share the story of the closure of the Good Food Diner in 1980. It’s a feast for the eyes.
Toledo’s Hotel Lorraine, shuttered since 2019, has a new owner and name. I hope the old-school, delightfully eclectic signage is given a reprieve. Here are some photos from my visit last summer.
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