When going down Front Street in Wheaton, IL, be sure to keep an eye out for The Little Popcorn Store. At only 4 feet wide by 64 feet long, Wheaton’s tiniest storefront is easy to miss but hard to forget. In fact, if you can’t locate the tiny red and white awning adorning the door, just look for the line of people and follow the scent of freshly popped popcorn.
Originally opened by E. Clair “Popcorn” Brown in 1921, The Little Popcorn Store was constructed by building a roof over an alleyway measuring 3.5 feet by 30 feet. Fourteen years after opening his store, Popcorn Brown moved to the current, larger location. Visitors to The Little Popcorn Store find it hard to believe that the original was even smaller than it is today!
The store was purchased by the Wakefield family in 1979 and is still owned and operated by Bill Wakefield. Like many longtime Wheaton residents, Wakefield has fond memories of going to The Little Popcorn Store as a boy. “I came with my parents, back when I was 6 or 7,” he recalls. “It was a treat to come.” Perhaps not so surprising, kids are still some of the store’s best customers. “We have lots of unique candy here. old timey nostalgic candy, as well as the new stuff.”
Official Snack Food of Illinois
Don’t let the name of The Little Popcorn Store fool you, they do a pretty big business. In 2016 alone, Wakefield sold nine tons of popcorn and he sells about 50 pounds on a busy weekday, more on a Saturday. The popcorn is made to order, by Wakefield himself, in small batches.
Wakefield has many regulars who come by for their daily popcorn fix. “Popcorn is the official snack food of Illinois,” he laughs as he methodically turns the crank on the popping pot, greeting customers by name as they purchase their small white bag of popcorn, still warm. Wakefield loves to interact with his customers and, given the intimate setting, it’s hard not to. “It’s just a lot of fun,” he admits with a shrug and a smile.