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Earlier on the Sugar House Facebook page, someone commented about the Nu-Crisp Popcorn store, a vacant building and sign which still hangs today in the heart of Sugar House. I was intrigued, so I did a little bit of investigation and found several pieces of information to help put the story together.
Here’s the backstory from the Sugar House Council:
Why did the Popcorn Shop cross the road?
By Lynne Olson, Nancy Mathews, and Harold Jensen
When the Marlo Theatre started showing movies on 21st South, it was a popular attraction in Sugar House, remembered fondly by three generations of Salt Lakers. At the time, theatres did not sell snacks or drinks from their own concession stands. In 1933, George “Milt” Kelly and his wife Leone opened a popcorn and candy store at 1027 E 21st South, next door to the Marlo,
The Nu-Crisp Products Company was a family business, where the Kelly’s, their children and grand-children made popcorn treats and candy for forty-five years.
In 1946, the Kelly’s bought a handsome brick bungalow at 960 E 2100 South. They added a two-story concrete façade to the house in 1950, placing the business entrance at street level, and moved their family into the residence behind it. A string of electric lights framed the upper story window, and an arrow-shaped blade sign pointed in toward the shop. Newspaper ads for Nu-Crisp read, “Famous from Coast to Coast – Follow the Arrow.”
When the Kelly’s wanted to retire, they offered the business to their daughters, Sherry Kelly Thomas and Betty K. Kratzer and their husbands. Eventually, Harold Jensen , who was a friend of the family and worked at Nu-crisp Popcorn as a boy, bought the business in 1970, and continued to manufacture Caramel Corn, Cheese Corn, Buttered Popcorn and Peanut Brittle in the little shop. New flavors were added, totaling 32 flavors in all. Jensen said the original Caramel Corn and Strawberry Corn were the favorites.
Jensen’s brother-in-law, Charles Hand, managed the store for a time and recalls making 46,000 popcorn balls one year to sell for Christmas parties. Pedestrians stood outside the shop window to watch taffy being stretched on the big puller. Mr. Hand designed the nationally-famous Nu-Crisp Popcorn sign, with the popcorn pot ablaze and kernels of popcorn flying out of the pot. It was made by Rainbow Signs, and installed in the early ‘70’s. Chuck Hand continued on at the store helping to pop the corn and keep things working when Mrs. Earlene Parry took over as manager.
Mrs. Parry, Mrs. Marva Jensen’s sister, managed the store for approximately ten years. She still is known as “The Popcorn Lady.” Many of the fine German chocolate pieces sold in the store were hand dipped by Earlene, who learned the craft from Mildred Cox, “Aunt Millie”, former candy dipper for Snelgrove’s Ice Cream.
Nu-Crisp Popcorn continued to be a family affair. Many of the Jensen’s nephews and nieces were employed there throughout the years. Under the Jensen’s ownership, the store continued the tradition of selling penny candy, and children from Forest School left lots of fingerprints on the candy counters. Earlene cautioned her employees to have patience when serving the little customers who found so many things to purchase with their pennies.
Most of their popcorn sales were to people on their way to the drive-in movies, and for parties or just a time at home enjoying the delicious popcorn. Nu-Crisp began selling their products in Cottonwood Mall, a service which continued for approximately four years.
In 1982, the business was sold it to Carl Newell, who previously had owned a McDonald’s hamburger franchise in Salt Lake City. After a bankruptcy ended Newell’s ownership of the Nu-Crisp, the Jensen’s repossessed the store. In 1984, they sold the inventory and equipment in the store to Margene Sorenson. According to Jensen, neither the name “Nu-Crisp Popcorn” nor the business was ever re-sold. Connoisseurs who remember the original candy corn say that the products being sold today under the “Nu Crisp Popcorn” label do not taste the same.
When area shopping malls put popcorn stores in their food courts, it hurt the Sugar House business. Another blow to the small retail candy and popcorn business landed when drive-in theaters went out of fashion. Brian Squire, who began using the name of Nu CrispTM and its logo in 1993, said the final straw was the invention of microwave popcorn.
In 1984, the Kelly’s sold their building to Blair W. and Margene Sorenson, who did business there as the “Popcorn Palace” for another decade. Nu CrispTM Buttery Popcorn and candy corn is currently being manufactured and marketed to retail stores by J. Morgan’s Confections Inc, Ogden UT.
Today, the Nu-Crisp Popcorn store sits vacant, a rope of taffy dough still hanging from the Kelly’s original puller. But the residence behind the shop is still in use by Sorenson’s as an office for various enterprises. The current owners are not interested in selling or leasing the property at this time, but don’t dismiss the idea that the shop may someday reopen and the Nu-Crisp popcorn sign, a historical neon masterpiece, will sparkle again.
Here’s a recent picture of the sign:
And just for fun, here’s a Deseret News article about the store, written way back in 1982, 30 years ago.
Personally, I think this stuff is really cool. Sure, it’s a little bit of a nuisance to have a vacant building in the retail district that the owners will neither sell or rent, but it also is a tie to Sugar House’s past, one that we don’t want to forget as Sugar House moves forward with all of these new developments.
If you want to know more about the Sugar House area, or are interested in living here, please contact us.
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