Roadside Businesses

At one time taverns and hotels served stagecoach travelers. But when the railroads began to provide long distance passenger service, many of these hotels and taverns went out of business. When travelers went back to the roads in automobiles people could once again earn a living with a roadside business.

Roadside Advertising

Soon the landscape began to change. Here and there, service stations, restaurants and tourist courts appeared. During summer months, roadside vegetable and fruit stands did a brisk business. These businesses advertised their services on signs placed along the roadside. Manufacturers thought the roadside was a good place to advertise too, and soon signs for their products lined the highways. Eventually there were many signs of all sizes and shapes. People decided the roadsides had become ugly and laws were passed limiting the size of signs and where they could be placed.

To compete for travelers' dollars, businesses kept trying to do better. Tourist camps became motels with swimming pools and restaurants. Sparkling clean gasoline stations replaced dirty, greasy ones. Some stations even included miniature grocery stores where travelers could buy snacks and soft drinks.

New Kinds of Businesses

New businesses appeared in towns and cities too. Drive-in restaurants became popular, especially in the 1940s. Later drive-through restaurants replaced them. On the edge of many towns, huge outdoor movie screens rose up, where people could sit in their cars to watch the latest feature. Some older businesses changed their ways. Banks built drive-up windows that made it easy for people to take care of banking quickly without getting out of their cars.


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “Wayside Businesses,” The Goldfinch 4, no. 2 (November 1982): 7.