"There's nothing in the world like show business," say show folks, and that goes double for the exhibitors, says theatre manager William T. Powell. Their lives are full of surprises. The biggest and most recent surprise has been the blossoming of the movie theatre candy concessions into big business after having been kicked around for years as a necessary nuisance.

All along it had been an undiscovered gold mine. Not until about six years ago did the owners decide to operate the concessions themselves in an effort at least to break even. Today it brings into the till almost as much cash as a B picture on the screen, and it is still growing.

It all started in the rowdy burlesque days when hawkers went through the aisles with a market basket during intermission selling crackerjack and popcorn. Later the legitimate houses hid a tiny candy counter in the most remote part of the lobby with a few Hershey bars and chewing gum on sale. Today all that is out, and especially the chewing gum for a reason that will be made clear in a moment.

Following a national trend, the Western Massachusetts Theatres Inc., which operate four movie houses  here, installed a popcorn machine in the Palace Theatre where the customers couldn't help but see it. The result was staggering. It still is. The machine proved inadequate for the demand, besides perfuming the atmosphere with strong cooking odors. Now the corn is popped in a special department in the basement of the Capitol Theatre, at the rate of 700 pounds a week, each pound making about 12 packages. This is distributed to all four theatres in the group, where heated compartments keep it tasty.

Realizing that confections are after all not a nuisance, the company decided to bring showmanship into the picture. Photogenic and attractively uniformed girls were selected and handsome counters were installed in the theatres. Sales zoomed, until now from 15,000 to 17,000 pieces of confections are sold in the four theatres each week in Pittsfield. A central purchasing department called Wesmas Candy Corporation was formed in Springfield to service the group, and it is rumored that eventually a full-time employee may be required in Pittsfield to supervise the candy counters.

Each theatre has its own best selling confection. The Strand, for example, stresses action films for the youngsters, and finds its fastest moving commodities are big, chewy bars, assorted candy drops and hard candy that lasts for a long while. The small fry demand the most they can get for their nickel or dime.

But the ugly duckling of the theatre candy counters is chewing gum. You'll never see a stick there for sale, since the stuff is the bane of every theatre manager in the country.

"Chewing gum will swamp you," says Powell, with feeling, "if you don't keep after it every minute. People drop it on the floor and it sticks."

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.