KEARNEY — Businessman John Gerber has sold so many things — from skateboards and sailboats to safaris and sympathy cards — and it all started when he was 7 or 8 years old, folding popcorn boxes for his dad in the Gerber Sweets Shop on the south side of The World Theatre lobby.
“As a kid I would be in the shop and put together popcorn boxes,” said Gerber, 84. “A lot of it was just being around people and being around my dad.”
Business was sweet for the Gerbers.
From 1940 to 1948, the elder Gerber had a corner on theater concessions. The World didn’t have sodas, popcorn and candy to sell, so theatergoers went to Gerber’s Sweets Shop before buying tickets to the movies. And, because the Sweets Shop was on the ground floor of the Masonic Building on the corner of 23rd Street and Central Avenue, the shop’s clientele included many of the physicians, dentists and other professionals whose offices were on the building’s second floor.
“Selling concessions was as profitable as showing the movies,” Gerber said about his father’s business, which also sold bulk candy, caramel corn and soft-serve ice cream.
Gerber said this week he’s excited The World Theatre hopes to recapture some of the nostalgia of the Sweets Shop. The World Theatre Foundation’s Save the World: Balcony or Bust campaign aims to raise more than $586,000 to renovate the balcony and make a host of other improvements to dressing rooms and the stage of the former Vaudeville theater.
“If funds are raised, the hope is to open the interior wall between the candy shop and the lobby,” said Jon Bokenkamp, founder/creative director of the World Foundation.
He said opening the wall would allow The World’s lobby to have an open flow for the sale of unique candies, T-shirts and books in the Sweets Shop.
“Additionally, that corner shop would be open whenever our Executive Director Bryce Jensen is there doing books, booking films or catching up on phone calls,” Bokenkamp said. “It would clean up a really important corner downtown, and would give the theater a much more visible storefront.”
Having the Sweets Shop could be a membership inducement, Bokenkamp said. “We also imagine giving discounts to members for items in the Sweets Shop.”
Gerber said that in 1948 his father bought the building south of the theater, which allowed him to enlarge his treats and other offerings, but by then The World was selling its own concessions, and that whittled into the family’s candy profits. The Sweets Shop shifted gears and became Gerber’s Books & Gifts, a business that lasted until 1989.
Gerber and his wife, Gwen, launched Adventure Travel Service and Super Sport Marine — ventures that literally allowed them to cater to customers around the world.
John Gerber got his first taste of business 75 years ago folding popcorn boxes for his father on the south side of The World. He also operated a business on the north side of The World from 1986 to 2001 that he named Super Sport Skate and Surf Shop. The hours were unusual, given the shop’s young clientele, but it was the most pleasurable time of his business career, he said. “I had an immense amount of fun with the kids.”