It’s hard to imagine going to a theater and not get hit with the pervading smell of popcorn. It’s THE snack of theaters which makes it hard to believe that at one time theaters actively kept the snack from entering the doors. In the early days of theaters, popcorn was kept out because it was both messy and loud despite its affordability. This affordability is what put popcorn at the forefront of the American entertainment everywhere outside of theaters. It could be sold on the streets, at carnivals, and any large gathering. However, it wasn’t until the Great Depression that popcorn finally gained a foothold in the movie industry as theaters realized they could entice people to spend money at their establishments by offering a cheap snack. This led to many theaters allowing popcorn stand vendors the chance to sell either within or just in front of the theaters for a small daily fee. Eventually these vendors were pushed out as theaters as installed their own popcorn machines, and popcorn was cemented as the snack of theaters.
Popcorn was cheap to buy and quick to sell so popcorn stands were popular in many cities including Cañon City. One such stand owner was Charles Bower, better known as “Popcorn Charley”. He purchased the stand in 1927 after a stroke that left his left side paralyzed the year before. He originally sold popcorn, candy, and chewing gum inside the lobby of the Sarah Theater, formerly located at 614 Main Street, now a vacant lot. When the original theater burned in 1928, Charley left for Hot Springs, Arkansas. He returned to Cañon City in 1934 and returned to selling popcorn from a wagon.
Charley attended all the events in Cañon City with his wagon; ball games, rodeos, concerts, parades, and more. He also followed a route along Main Street everyday and, according to the December 30, 1953 Cañon City Daily Record, could be relied on almost as accurately as a clock. He started his day at the corner of 5th Street and Main Street and ended his day at the corner of 6th Street and Main Street waiting for the movie theater crowds craving a snack. Long-time residents remember buying popcorn from Charley as children and bringing shoe boxes to his cart to get filled up “Old Maids”, or un-popped kernels. On some of his treks from Main Street to the football field, he might have accepted some help pushing the cart with a reward of a bag of fresh popcorn. He retired in 1953 and passed away in 1961 at the age of 71.
Thank you, Charley and happy National Popcorn Day!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.