Old-Fashioned Businesses Making a Comeback | CO


 Two kids laying in the back of a car at a drive-in movie theater.

In the age of streaming, watching a movie under the stars at a drive-in is a unique and increasingly popular experience. — Getty Images/Rebecca Nelson

Before big box and e-commerce retailers dominated the market, most people had to rely on smaller, more specialized businesses for their needs.

While many of these businesses fizzled out as technology and industries advanced, some have made a nostalgic return in the modern day.

Below are five businesses from “back in the day” that are resurging in the United States.

Drive-in movie theaters

Drive-in theaters first debuted as a seasonal business in 1933 with New Jersey’s Camden Drive-In, offering affordable family fun without leaving the car. As maintenance costs rose and larger multiplexes grew in popularity, this business model declined. Yet, the ritual of gathering blankets, pillows, and snacks, and piling the whole family into the car hasn’t lost its appeal — and in fact, may be even more appealing as a unique experience in the era of streaming services.

New Jersey’s Delsea Drive-In Movie Theater is a prime example of a modern drive-in theater that’s still thriving. Originally established in 1949 and closed in 1987, the theater has been reopened since 2004. As the state’s only drive-in movie theater, the theater plays double features rain or shine, complemented by a menu of food for attendees to enjoy throughout the night.

Milk delivery

Milk delivery was a job once done with horse-drawn carts, delivering fresh jars daily to families’ doorsteps — a crucial service before the advent of refrigeration. However, as refrigeration became widespread, milk delivery transitioned from necessity to luxury with many cutting back on their service.

Changes in consumers’ habits and interest in the foods they eat have led some to rethink their milk delivery needs. Today, local farms and businesses like Udderly Delicious promise customers superior, single-source dairy products, dairy alternatives, and additional farm products delivered right to their doorstep. Other businesses, such as Fresh Portal, have even leveraged the former milk door hardware on homes, offering services that transform them into temperature-controlled storage units for easy delivery.

[Read more: 6 Small Movie Theaters Still Thriving in 2024]

Record stores appeal to the nostalgia of those devoted to their favorite artists.

Indie bookstores

Big retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon may be fierce competitors, but independent (indie) bookstores have carved a lane that’s all their own. Despite historical declines in small brick-and-mortar bookstores, there are roughly 500 more indie bookstores than there were in 2009, proving this business’s comeback. Many of these stores have taken a focused approach that caters to niche audiences with smaller, curated selections of books.

To keep up with changing times, many indie bookstores offer online purchasing. Platforms like Bookshop.org make it easy for consumers to support indie bookstores. Plus, many indie shops pride themselves on their in-store services, like highlighting local authors from the community and offering an outlet for emerging artists.

Butcher shops

In the 1930s, the rise of grocery stores offered families a convenient one-stop shop for all their food shopping needs, leading to a decline in patronage of traditional butcher shops. Today, as culinary knowledge and interest in cooking techniques like meat smoking grow, a renewed appreciation for high-quality, well-sourced meat is leading consumers back to butcher shops.

To appeal to this clientele, many butcher shops are taking modern approaches to expand their presence. For example, Alabama-based The Butcher Meat Co made an extension of its shop via the “Chuckwagon,” a food truck to engage even more with the community by appearing at local events offering short-order menus with their quality meats.

[Read more: How to Offer Delivery at Your Business]

Record stores

Before CDs and streaming services, music enthusiasts often spent hours searching through stacks of vinyl to discover new music or revisit songs they heard on the radio. While today you can access most music online, the experience of visiting a record store to buy physical records has grown in popularity among consumers and collectors alike. This has enabled record stores to flourish, with vinyl records’ total sales revenue reaching $1 billion in 2021 — a monumental first since 1985.

Record stores appeal to the nostalgia of those devoted to their favorite artists. Many, like Kentucky’s Terrapin Station, offer everything from vinyl to collectible memorabilia, plus other forms of media like DVDs. Some take a community-focused approach, too, delivering experiences like in-store performances, meet-and-greets, and promotional opportunities for local, up-and-coming musicians.

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