Street vendors decided to capitalize on this large amount of people and set up their carts outside of the theaters to sell popcorn. Movie theaters wanted no part of this. Popcorn was officially banned and you would actually have to check the popcorn with your coats at the door. We were in the middle of the Great Depression and vendors were making a huge profit selling popcorn at five to 10 cents a bag. By the mid 1930s, movie theaters started to go under due to the rough financial climate.
R.J. McKenna a general manager of a chain of 66 theaters was against popcorn but decided to experiment with popcorn sales at his theaters anyways. In 1938, his theaters lost money on admission sales but he made nearly $200,000 on popcorn. That’s about $3.5 million today. He cut the admission price from 50 cents to 15 cents just to get people in the door to buy more popcorn. As popcorn’s wealth circulated, theaters realized they needed to sell concessions without the street vendors as the middleman. The theaters are selling popcorn, candy, and soda.
Things are going great until World War II came around and the United States entered a sugar shortage. Sugar exporters were cut off from America, and we needed to ration the sugar we had. That meant no candy and no soda. They needed to rely solely on popcorn for concession sales and by the end of the war, that was it for America. Popcorn was the official movie theater snack. Over half of popcorn in America was consumed in the theaters.
After all, movie theaters keep almost 100 percent off of concessions and only keep 40 percent of ticket sales. The movie theaters can’t rely on ticket sales to stay afloat. So, they have to raise the prices of concessions to make a profit. The cost of popcorn actually saves the movie theater. It pays for lights, the sound system, heating and cooling, and if you weren’t paying the high amount for concessions, the theaters would charge more for the tickets. One thing we can’t deny though is when we think of the movies, we think of popcorn and in the end, we have the Great Depression to thank for it.
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