It is said that the third Monday of the month of January is called ‘Blue Monday.’ Last Monday, January 16, was Blue Monday, which means that it was slated on the calendar as the ‘most depressing day of the year.’ However, amongst all the dreariness of the post-Christmas winter season, there is also another named day in January that is quite more cheery and can help to fight off the winter blues.
Thursday, January 19, is slated as ‘National Popcorn Day.’ And, of course, what better place to celebrate National popcorn Day than in Granite Falls, the home of the infamous Kiwanis Popcorn Stand.
The Advocate Tribune sat down with head of the Popcorn Stand Committee, Les Bergquist, to learn a little bit about popcorn and its rich and buttery history in Granite Falls. According to Bergquist, one of the main reasons popcorn took off as a hit snack was that it was sold as a cheap treat during the early days of the movie theater as a cost effective alternative to more expensive sugary snacks.
Popcorn was originally sold by merchants outside the theater due to movie theater owners originally disapproving of the selling the treats themselves because of the mess it created. Eventually, the snack caught on and continued to be a hit, especially during the Great Depression due to its low cost. Popcorn consumption in the U.S. took off once again in the 1940s during World War II because of sugar rationing.
Consumption dropped off afterwards due to the introduction of TV into modern homes, reducing movie theater attendance, according to Bergquist. The big resurgence of popcorn came in the late 1970s, stated Bergquist, as microwave popcorn became more widely available, with approximately 70% of the popcorn consumed in the U.S. being consumed in homes.
Except, of course, if you happen to live in a town with a popcorn stand like Granite Falls. “It’s tradition, it’s something that’s evolved since day one since it was a good product back then and it’s a good product today,” explained Bergquist on the popularity of this special treat.
There are approximately 25 states in the country that produce the special type of corn that is used in the production of popcorn. Nebraska is the leading state for popcorn producing. In fact, Bergquist explained that Minnesota was the first state to develop a hybrid popcorn seed in 1934 called Minn Hybrid 250 by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. The first popcorn popper was gas powered in the stand, was the type of popper originally used in the Granite stand’s early life.
Julius and Fred Ernston were the original founders of the Granite Falls popcorn stand. In the summer of 1919, the Ernston brothers concocted the idea of opening up a popcorn stand during a summer festival in Granite. After providing quality, cost-effective snacks to festival goers for some time, the brothers took their business to the next level as the community was interested in popcorn being sold for a longer time-frame, and, eventually, the popcorn stand we all know today was born.
Long story short, according to Bergquist, the popcorn stand ended up exchanging hands a few times before making its way to the Kiwanis Club of Granite Falls. The Stand was next acquired by Bernett, a descendent of Fred, and Arlene Ernston in 1950. Next, the stand was bought in 1982 by Tom and Barbra Agre. In 1985, the stand was sold to Pam and William Liester. It was sold in 1990 to Dean and Dana Baldry, then was owned by Joseph and Janelle Nielson in 1994. It was sold in 1997 to David Kafka and Jill Prahm and eventually made its way to the Kiwanis in 2002.
As for why Thursday is National Popcorn Day? Bergquist was unable to find out why, but found some speculative research stating that it might be because of the timing of the Super Bowl. In addition, National Popcorn Month is in October, for those seeking an entire month of Popcorn jubilee.
Those eager to grab a snack of popcorn will be in luck in a few months; the Kiwanis volunteers will be opening the stand on May 1, as is tradition. The popcorn stand will be having its 98th consecutive year this season, so Kiwanis is gearing up for the centennial celebration in 2019. Bergquist is asking anyone who has photographs or any other interesting information to contact him to help make a display for the centennial celebration.