Retro Retailer Week (Thursday)

What is a Retro Retailer? A “Retro Retailer” is either an online store or actual store that sells vintage, retro, dated, evocative, in period style, nostalgic, old world, old-fashioned,

out-of-date, passe, or period specific merchandise that is either new, original, or old. If you are looking for retro items to spice up your kitchen, office, or wardrobe, this list will help you in finding the item you are looking for and also few items you can’t live without. These stores are not listed in any particular order. If I have not done a personal review of the business listed below I have not done business with them, so please buy at your own risk. Please let me know if you have any issues with anyone listed. I will take immediate action and delete them off the list. (if you have any stores you want to recommend or if you would like me to look at your business please contact me and let me know. You can email me at

ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a ton of merchants that I have lined up for the Retro Retailer’s List. So many in fact that this week, I will be submitting one for every post this week. Maybe more if I am up to it. It will showcase a lot of really awesome web finds, neat-o products, one of a kind items, and some that you may of even had as a child.

I ran across Vintage Roadside by accident. It was on a blog I stumbled upon. They have a bunch of T-shirts with old prints on them. In the “About us” Section it reads:

The idea for Vintage Roadside came to us during one of our favorite pastimes: driving around central New York looking for the remains of the golden age of automotive travel…and some tasty drive-in French fries.

A & W Papa burger statue - 1960s vintage advertising iconAlthough we were lucky enough to find both that day along historic Route 20—at the Petrified Creatures Museum outside Richfield Springs and the Dairyland Drive-In near Sharon Springs—we couldn’t stop thinking about all the other wonderful mom and pop businesses that used to cater to travelers along that route.

Over the past decade we’ve spent a lot of time exploring old highways and small towns practicing our own version of archaeology—stopping at boarded up businesses to take pictures of old signage, collecting stories from local historical societies, and tracking down mom and pop memorabilia from the 1930s – early 1960s. We’ve also happily paid admission to any roadside attraction we could find with an interesting story to tell…although we have to confess a particular weakness for paper mache dinosaurs and miniature buildings.

On that day in New York we decided that we’d like to try to bring something unique to the mix in keeping the stories of mom and pop businesses alive.

What better way to accomplish this than to bring back to light the authentic advertising graphics and logos of the bygone businesses? In addition to honoring the spirit of the place with the original visions of their owners, it would be fun to give people the opportunity to indulge in one of life’s great pleasures: the gift shop souvenir!

Selecting the best from our extensive collection of memorabilia, each item in our gift shop is designed with the authentic graphics or logo of a business that operated during the 1930s – early 1960s.

Vintage Roadside’s gift shop focuses on roadside attractions, diners and drive-ins, motor courts and motels, skating rinks, and bowling alleys—all places that used to jump with people looking for a bit of fun and adventure, many now pushed out or pushed over by modern roads and a changing society. (We’ve stretched the definition of “roadside” a little to include bowling alleys and skating rinks because we love them too much to leave behind.)

Working with historical societies and the resources that are available to us, we’ve done our best to include a brief history of each business, helping to set it in the context of the American landscape. These histories are a work in progress and will be updated as additional information is uncovered. If you have a story to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Whether you grew up with these businesses or just love the history and the incredible graphics as we do, we hope you enjoy your visit to Vintage Roadside!


Here are a few examples of their T shirts they have for sale on their website:

Tiki Gardens

“Tropical Paradise by Day – Polynesian Fantasy by Night”

One of the most well known and successful attractions along the Florida coast was Tiki Gardens, located in Indian Rocks Beach. Owned and operated by Frank and Jo Byars, Tiki Gardens was a destination for more than 25 years drawing roughly 500,000 visitors annually at its peak.

The Byars began their march to the top of the Florida attraction world with $200.00 and Jo’s ability to craft jewelry from local shells. Building upon Jo’s creative skill and Frank’s natural ability to sell, they soon turned Byars Sea Jewels into the biggest operation of its kind. The next leap forward came when they purchased the contents of a closing gift shop and opened the Signal House gift shop and restaurant on Gulf Blvd. On the grounds of the Signal House property the Byars also built a small Polynesian garden as an added draw for visitors.

In 1962, after a fire destroyed the Signal House the Byars focused their energies on creating one of the most fabulous roadside attractions in Florida’s history. Reopening in 1964, the Byars came back with an even bigger gift shop and expanded gardens. Tiki Gardens would eventually grow to 12 acres and include 10 gift shops, an “adventure trail” of grass huts, numerous statues of Polynesian gods, live peacocks, and Trader Franks, a 450 seat restaurant  which also housed the Wiki Wiki Lounge.

Of the tikis placed throughout the gardens, Mr. Byars explained “we’d always dreamed about the South Seas.” Unable to find an architect who shared their dream of a Polynesian wonderland, Mrs. Byars took pencil and paper in hand to sketch rough blueprints for builders who would ultimately create the attraction’s most memorable landmarks.

In 1988, the Byars sold the remaining property to a pair of foreign investors. One of the interesting aspects of the sale was the $1,000,000 in opals the Byars accepted as partial payment.

After two years of operation, the new owners of Tiki Gardens sold the land to Pinellas County. Following demolition of the existing buildings and sale of the tikis, Pinellas County opened the land to the public in 1995 as a combination park and beach access parking lot. Although no longer attracting visitors with the Byars’ Polynesian dream, Tiki Gardens, now known as Indian Shores Beach Access, continues to offer tourists the opportunity to refresh and enjoy the beauty of Florida’s beaches.


Jet Lanes

Jet Lanes was one of the many bowling “houses” located in the New York City area in the early 1960’s. While not as large or well known as some of the city’s other bowling alleys – Paradise Lanes, Gun Post Lanes, and Central Lanes to name a few – Jet Lanes provided entertainment for bowlers from approximately 1959 – 1965. This was the era of tremendous growth for the sport of bowling  – in 1961 the number of alleys in the United States jumped from 6,500 to over 10,000. Truly a great time to be a bowler!

Located on Third Avenue, Jet Lanes was a simple one-story building featuring 21 lanes with automatic pinspotters – a technological advancement that revolutionized the sport of bowling in 1955 and well worth advertising! Although relatively small, Jet Lanes also featured a restaurant and cocktail lounge and was fully air conditioned for those hot New York summers.

At some point after Jet Lanes closed, the building became the home of Cedardale Drugs for almost 30 years. After Cedardale vacated the building, it sat empty for approximately one year before being torn down in 2006.


The Tower Bowl

If you happened to be in San Diego in 1942, whether as a resident, a vacationer, or a serviceman stationed at one of the local military bases, and were looking for an evening’s activity, you would find the answer downtown at the corner of Broadway and Kettner. There you would find an incredible Art Deco building with a dramatic eighty-foot curved steel tower, adorned with rotating bowling balls five feet in diameter, spelling out “The Tower Bowl” on one side and “Bowling” on the other . In case you somehow missed the sign, the entire building, along with the sign, were adorned with over a thousand feet of brilliant neon.

Tower Bowl, San DiegoTower Bowl was designed for A. J. Hanson by one of the premier architects on the West Coast – S. Charles Lee. Mr. Lee designed many of the beautiful theatres found throughout Southern California. Showplaces such as Tower Theatre in Los Angeles, Fox Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, Studio Theatre in Hollywood, and what is considered to be the ultimate in Streamline Moderne design – the Academy Theatre in Inglewood. The majority of Mr. Lee’s buildings were opulent palaces and Tower Bowl was no exception.

When it opened in 1941, Tower Bowl was billed as a complete entertainment complex, offering two cocktail lounges, a billiard room, fine food, a dance floor, seating for 400 spectators, and 28 maple lanes. Entering from Broadway, visitors walked across a beautiful terrazzo floor past the cocktail lounge towards the bowling lanes at the rear of the building. Period photographs confirm that the interior of the building was the epitome of Art Deco style. Special lighting effects were employed throughout the building, including a revolving reel that “painted” the lounge in constantly changing colors. The bowling area was much more subdued however, as this was the area for family entertainment. Shades of blue and grey covered the 20 foot tall ceiling along with the walls, which included murals that were an obvious tip of the cap to the architect’s theatre design background.

Tower Bowl proved to be one of the most popular destinations in San Diego throughout the 1940s and 1950s, especially among sailors stationed in San Diego during the war years. A 1986 San Diego Union-Tribune article quotes Wallace “Pug” Lund, a Tower Bowl employee from 1943 to 1948 and a member of the Southern California Bowling Hall of Fame, as saying, “It was THE classic bowling alley of the time. We had lots of good memories from that place – many a fun day, many a fun night. On Saturdays and Sundays, during the war, it would be nothing to have a two-hour waiting list for an alley.”

Although Tower Bowl remained an icon of downtown San Diego until the early 1970’s, business had fallen off significantly with the shift of the population and bowling entertainment to the suburbs and the deteriorating state of the building. After a series of fires, the building was eventually sold and demolished in May 1986 to make way for a 34-story office tower, Tower Bowl lives on through photographs and memories as a tribute to the genius of S. Charles Lee and the heyday of mid-century San Diego.


Indio Bowl

The Indio Bowl was located on North Jackson at the corner of Jackson and Market. With its classic googie style sign and split rock clad exterior, it was the place to bowl throughout the 1960s in Indio.

The following description from a 1965 Chamber of Commerce publication paints a wonderful picture of the Indio Bowl:

“The Indio Bowl, located on North Jackson, is a recreation center for the entire family. Twenty-four Brunswick lanes are at your disposal for your bowling pleasure.

Open 24 hours a day, there is a capable staff on hand to help you enjoy your hours at the bowl.

Special events are scheduled throughout the year. League bowling Monday through Friday. Junior instruction is available year around. For further information about schedules telephone Diamond 7-0624.

The Coffee Shop is opened daily from 4:00 pm until midnight. For your listening and dancing pleasure, the Indio Bowl offers you the Star Room, featuring entertainment every Friday and Saturday night.”

Over the following decades the building was home to several other bowling establishments: Fiesta Lanes, Harvest Lanes, and Desert Lanes. In the past few years the building has shed all traces of its bowling past and became a gift and home accessories store.


Gwinn’s Restaurant

Gwinn’s Restaurant and Drive In: Mid-Century Marvelous

The soaring, angular canopy of Gwinn’s Restaurant and Drive-In is a striking example of the clean lines and bold appeal of mid-century modern design.

Gwinn's Restaurant 1 Mid-Century Modern

Digging through our reference books, we discovered that contemporaries of Bissner & Zook, the architectural team responsible for the design of Gwinn’s, loved it as much as today’s admirers of mid-century style.

Although it includes a few reservations regarding decorative versus functional features, an Architectural Record article published in July 1948 declared Gwinn’s a resounding success.

“To architect and laymen alike the success of the exterior treatment of Gwinn’s will be obvious. The horizontal motif of overlapping roof planes, the finely detailed expanse of glass, and the restrained but effective “billboard” all produce in this restaurant an admirably high standard.”

In addition to being an impressive example of mid-century modern design, Gwinn’s was also a popular meeting place for Pasadena’s civic and business community. The Pasadena Radio Club notes that their first dinner of record was held at Gwinn’s while the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation credits a festive dinner at Gwinn’s (including spiked punch) as their starting point in 1960.

Thanks to a volunteer researcher and Collection Manager at the Pasadena Museum of History, we’re happy to confirm that Pasadena Business Directories list Gwinn’s in operation from 1949 to 1972.

Other interesting Gwinn’s trivia:

  • Floyd Gwinn, the owner of Gwinn’s was the mayor of Pasadena from 1964 – 1966. Following his passing in 1972, Grove Park in Pasadena was dedicated by the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation in his memory.
  • Although existing as a firm for just two years (1947 – 1948), Bissner & Zook also made their mark on residential architecture. A 2007 report prepared by the Historic Resources Group and Pasadena Heritage notes the partners’ impact on the modern ranch: “[their] Judd House of 1948 exemplifies the confluence of “Modern” with the Ranch house in its clean lines and lack of ornamentation combined with the board-and-batten siding of a traditional ranch.”
  • Adventures in Good Eating, a 1959 Duncan Hines publication, noted that Gwinn’s was open from 6:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., featured good lighting and “pleasing colors”, and was known for its fried chicken and homemade fruit pies.


Kibby’s Drive – In

In 1955, you may have decided on the beautiful city of San Francisco for your family vacation. Heading north on Highway 82 you would have found yourself passing through the city of San Mateo. If you were lucky, it was time for a meal and San Mateo had the answer – the Broiled Kibbyburger!

Kibby’s Drive In was a mainstay for both locals and travelers from roughly 1954 – 1971. Located at the corner of 36th and S. El Camino Real (Hwy 82), Kibby’s beckoned hungry diners with their tempting Broiled Kibbyburger and their Famous Pancake Sandwich. Kibby’s also employed the ever-popular carhop – much to the delight of high school kids. Original advertising states that “Kibby” wanted to help at home by way of offering delicious food specialties packaged to pick up and take home. We’re sure this kind offer of assistance was met with cheers and pleas from everyone under the age of 16 within a 20 mile radius!

Chris, with the San Mateo County History Museum, fondly remembers Kibby’s as the place to be in the early 1950s. A place where everyone would hang after local high school football games and dances…at least until 11:00 when the curfew for those under 18 kicked in! “Kibby’s was the best” Chris recalls, “It was a very popular drive-in that was quite similar to what you saw in the movie American Graffiti…and the food really was that good.”

Kibby’s also had a second location on S. El Camino Real, 7 miles south, in Redwood City. This second drive in was open from roughly 1959 – 1968.


B & B Rancho

If you happened to be traveling the western stretch of Route 66 in the 1950s, you would have found yourself passing through Rialto, California. Although this stretch of Route 66, known as Foothill Blvd as it passes through Rialto, Rancho Cucamonga, and Pomona still had a few of its famous orange and lemon groves at the time, the real attraction for the savvy traveler was a night or two at The Wigwam Motel and dinner at The B & B Rancho.

Located at the corner of Foothill and Riverside, just a mile west of The Wigwam Motel, the B & B was in a perfect location to catch the eye of hungry motorists. The B & B was a place where you could take time to relax from the road and slow things down for an hour or two over a great meal.

The B & B was owned and operated by Bob and Betty Lasher who are still remembered fondly for their good food and wonderful service. The location has long since passed through numerous owners and business names.


Thunderbird Lanes

With blazing red eyes and a 17-foot wingspan outlined in neon, Thunderbird Lanes’ sign topped a pylon more than 80 feet high at N. Mountain Ave. and the San Bernardino Freeway (I-10) from 1959 – 1997.

Funky wings spread wide, the Thunderbird graphic is a little offbeat – exactly why we love it. We can’t stop staring at it!

While gathering stories from the Ontario community – including one childhood nightmare revolving around the Thunderbird’s red eyes – we also tracked down a Los Angeles Times article from June 1959 announcing construction of Thunderbird Lanes.

Expected to cost $1 million to construct, the article also notes John F. Anderson as the owner of the new 32,000 square foot building with William Wong of Consolidated Developers as project architect.

By all accounts, the sign was magnificent on its pylon, beckoning bowlers to the Thunderbird’s 32 lanes along with a “coffee shop, cocktail lounge, banquet room and children’s nursery.”

Demolished in the late 1990s to make way for a new movie theater, the memory of Thunderbird Lanes lives on through its sign, now housed at the Ontario Museum of History and Art.

On a recent trip to Ontario, we finally realized our dream of visiting the original Thunderbird sign with the wonderful Charles Phoenix as tour guide. Charles was great company as always and the sign was more impressive in person than we imagined.

The Ontario Museum of History and Art is a real gem, well worth a visit next time you’re in the neighborhood.

In addition to the Thunderbird sign, the museum has a fun permanent display focused on road trips.

Come to think of it, the museum’s other permanent display highlighting the history of Ontario, the home of a Hotpoint factory from 1911 – 1975, is just as entertaining.


Moonlight Motel

The Moonlight Motel, located just off of the 71 Bypass in Independence, Missouri beckoned weary travelers with an eye-catching sign featuring a sleepy crescent moon.

The Moonlight offered many of the amenities travelers had come to expect in the late 1950’s: Telephone, Radio, Television, Tub & Shower, Cribs, Room Controlled Heat, and a relatively new technology America was in love with: Refrigerated Air Conditioning. (Experiencing a post-war boom, sales of window air conditioners jumped from 74,500 in 1948 to 1,045,000 in 1953).

The Moonlight Motel was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Kemme and served the traveling public until the late 1960’s.

The 71 Bypass is now Highway 291, and while you can no longer stay at the Moonlight, we do know that another motel from that era continues to light up their fantastic sign – The Queen City Motel. While we have not had the opportunity to stay at The Queen City, you might swing by and take a look if you’re passing through and, like us, you’re a fan of fantastic period signage.


Vintage Roadside has more shirts available on their website. What is awesome is that they find the history of the establishments and post the history info under the item on their website. I love roadside history and vintage hotels/motels, bowling alleys, and of course diners/drive-ins. Please check out their website for more T-shirts.If you buy one please send me a photo of yourself wearing the shirt and I will gladly attach it to this post. Send your photos to

Thanks for reading,


Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 6:06 PM  Leave a Comment  
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