Free and Ample Parking
Beginning in the mid-1920s, and accelerating after World War II, many grocery stores, car dealerships, and other businesses moved out of the city to the suburban strip. There they created a bustling scene where car-owning consumers could buy almost anything they needed. By moving commercial life out of the central business districts, suburban strips contributed to the economic decline of downtowns. As more people moved into the suburbs, the strips also became centers of social life.
Like many cities that boomed during World War II, Portland, Oregon, developed suburban strips. Lined with stores that appealed to the car-owning middle class, Sandy Boulevard developed rapidly in the late 1940s. In 1949, Wallace Buick moved from its downtown location to Sandy Boulevard, and became one of many auto-related businesses on the strip. Portland residents increasingly shopped on suburban strips like this. Before long, many of them would move from downtown neighborhoods to new suburbs.
Businesses on the Strip
Car ownership brought dramatic changes to American cities. Stores moved from downtown to the edges of cities, where there was more room to park. Shopping and driving merged into a seamless activity on suburban retail strips.
N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland, Oregon, was one of the busiest suburban strips in the Pacific Northwest. A major Portland highway, the boulevard was dotted with small stores, gasoline stations, and houses until the late 1940s, when large shopping centers, supermarkets, and car dealerships changed the landscape. These car-friendly businesses attracted shoppers from city and suburbs alike.
“Leave the Driving to Us”
Hot Rods and Hangouts
Hot-rodding began before World War II when young men of modest means tinkered with cars to improve their performance. Besides reworking engines, they often lowered the roof or the entire body, to reduce wind resistance. These cars became a symbol of defiant youth, and the basis for more appearance-oriented customizing—gaudy paint jobs and chrome pipes—in the late 1940s and 1950s. Media portrayals of youth culture in the 1950s made icons of these modified vehicles and helped to spread the popularity of customizing.
Making the Sale
At the end of World War II, demand for new cars far exceeded the supply, and dealers didn’t need to drum up sales. But as manufacturers introduced new models and production increased, consumers went shopping for new features, exciting styling, and low prices. Dealers hired more salesmen and sent them to automobile factories for training. Experienced salesmen knew how to make their cars appealing, compare them favorably with rival cars, and “close the deal,” sometimes using aggressive sales techniques. In the 1950s, automakers authorized many new dealerships, established quotas for dealer sales, and vigorously advertised their products.