“We had to teach about 500 kids how to use it. I enjoy teaching them. They think it’s crazy. They get a big kick out of it. They want to do it themselves,” he said.
The opener is an important fixture at Bonner’s Route 66 Mini Market because he sells an assortment of about 100 brands of bottled beverages made the original way – with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. These selections include the original recipe of Coke, the original Frosty Root Beer, plus Dublin Dr. Pepper, Faygo out of Michigan, which offers such flavors such as grape and cherry, Cheerwine out of North Carolina and the original Bubble Up. And all come in glass bottles with tops that don’t twist off.
Just walking into the store, one can identify its split personality.
“We are a convenience store that has all the basic things, but people say the store is so cool because it has a nostalgic feel to it,“ Bonner said.
And as one of his customers tweeted: “This place smells great!”
That’s because the coffee is ground before brewing and popcorn is freshly popped several times a day.
“When you come in here, a lot of people think we’ve been around 30 or 40 years. That’s what I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t want to look like a conventional convenience store. I built the shelves myself out of wood. We are nestled in a building that goes way back to 1917. It is a historical building. It’s got that feeling of being old.
“We play old time music like Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, songs from the big band era or Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, music from the 40s and 50s,” Bonner said.
Indeed, you get the impression you are walking back in time about 50 years, into a neighborhood store.
“I tried to create a family store. It’s the nostalgic corner store,” he said.
The store is small, only about 450 square feet, but it is jam-packed with everything a person would normally buy at a convenience store. It also carries fresh bagels, Artisans Burritos and Uncle Buzz’s Chocolate.
He does not sell alcohol at the store.
“I did that on purpose. The old stores did not have beer and wine in the old days. You got liquor and beer from a liquor store.”
Bonner says he decided to open a convenience store in downtown Flagstaff because there was no place to get a bottle of water, a pack of gum or an aspirin.
“There were plenty of bars and restaurants. I found a niche and I started looking into it. I thought about the historical downtown and wanted to do something in that flavor. It worked out great.”
He says when he started brainstorming ideas for the store, he really looked at Flagstaff, which is known for its historic downtown, its proximity to the Grand Canyon and as a stopover for people going to the Grand Canyon.
“It is a piece of history. It’s the highest point on Route 66 between Chicago and L.A. Many cars overheated going up the hill. It was an important stop on the 2,400-mile journey,” he said. “We wanted to fit into the downtown neighborhood that has been here for a while.”
“We tried for a theme that matched up with Route 66. I created it with a retro feel to it. I try to go back to the day when you knew the customer by name and you knew the guy working at the counter.”
When he started to decorate the store, he looked at his own collection of photographs he had taken himself.
“My background is in landscape photography. I was out taking photos of the Wigwam, Two Guns and Twin Arrows. I kind of had a library of photos from all my trips, so when I decided to open the store, I just started putting it together.”
He says since going into the business two and a half years ago, he has made an surprising discovery.
“The Europeans place more value on Route 66 than the locals. Route 66 is right here at our front door. It’s a big part of American history.”
For that reason, he increased his inventory of Route 66 memorabilia, such as caps, t-shirts, shot glasses and coffee mugs. FBN
The Route 66 Mini Market is at San Francisco and Birch in Flagstaff. To learn more, visit www.route66minimarket.com.