By  on October 7, 2010

Drive-in culture is largely a Fifties thing — today’s fast-food drive-through notwithstanding. It’s certainly not often associated with the Twenties, when the automobile was still in its fledgling stages. Yet on July 21, 1928, WWD featured a full-page story on the latest retail innovation: the drive-in shop as seen at the Automarket Company in Louisville, Kentucky. “It [the Automarket] is unique in that it is the first store designed here in which automobile owners can drive in and buy complete lines of groceries, vegetables, fruits, fresh meats, etc.,” reported WWD, “without leaving their seat behind the drivers’ wheel.” The establishment, in a renovated garage building, was the brainchild of attorney James R. Duffin and made roughly $2,000 a week.

Here’s how the place worked: Drivers were handed a bin, which would be tied to the car handle and placed atop a continuous shelf with ball-bearing rollers. As the car moved forward so did the basket, allowing guests to toss in their buys as they grabbed from the rows of merch on the left. Instead of stationary shelves, the store featured rotating, assembly line-style counters. “Customers may turn the rotor forward or backward,” wrote WWD, “either to capture merchandise that is just going away from them, or to bring around merchandise that has not reached them.” A platform turntable at the other end allowed cars to make an easy U-turn. Cashiers were located just after the butcher’s counter.

To keep exhaust fumes from accumulating, the Automarket included a special air system. There was a security system of sorts, too, to keep sticky-fingered shoppers from slipping things directly into their cars rather than the baskets: a series of mirrors placed strategically throughout. And for those who preferred to shop the old-fashioned way — on two feet — Duffin’s shop allowed for that as well. “[One can] enter and take merchandise from the opposite side of the rotors,” WWD reported. “Of course, the pedestrian carries his basket just as he would in a Piggly Wiggly or A&P Store.”

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