Ripped From the Shelves and Our Hearts

Discontinued products may be off the shelves, but not gone forever.

November 21, 2008, 4:28 PM

Nov. 22, 2008 — -- Do you remember Body on Tap Shampoo? How about the Mrs. Beasley dolls from the popular 70s show "Family Affair"? Did your mother or grandmother ever wear the infamous Frownies, or Winkies, the first instant face lift?

These products of yesteryear had a strong, yet fleeting hold on consumers spending dollars. Then, like thousands of other products, they were discontinued, ripped from the shelves and vanished from popular culture.

But, like their memory, they never quite disappeared for good.

Brian Florence of upstate New York has made it his passion to find those hard to get and discontinued sodas that people may remember but haven't seen in years.

He makes at least one big trip a year to stock up and bring it back to his home.

"I have a lot of discontinued sodas," he said. "Mr. Pibb, the original formula, of course, which was discontinued 2001, 2002. I have Pepsi Blue, DNL, Coke 2 cans. I have Josta, as well."

Florence has traveled all over the United States, stopping anyplace he can to find what he's looking for.

"I get a rental car, I load it to the ground and I'm sure the rental car company isn't happy when the tires are all worn and the brakes are worn out from me hauling 1,200 pounds of soda in the trunk," he said. "I actually have to bring a special screwdriver with me to adjust the headlights down because there's so much weight in the back, it slants the front of the car straight up."

Florence has so much soda now that he sells some on his Web site, to supplement his road trips.

"It's kinda a supply and demand thing," he said. "I will target those specific brands, like Ruby Red Squirt or Sunkist Lemonade, for example. Those are very regional. They are only available in certain parts of the country, and pretty much I am guaranteed to sell it if I buy it."

Rachel Weingarten, President of GTK Marketing Group, said some people are interested in old products because it helps take them back in time.

"People who become rabid brand loyalists, it reminds them of a time that maybe was better in their lives," she said. "For some people, it can be a smell of a shampoo that reminds them of 10 years ago or 15 years ago when things were less stressful and happy."

This desire for the products of yesterday has even created a small cottage industry on the Web, such as eBay or and in stores all across the country, like one in Weston, Vt., The Vermont Country Store.

The Vermont Country Store was founded by the Orton family in 1946. It's now owned by the third generation Ortons -- Cabot, Gardner and Eliot.

According to Cabot Orton, they are the "purveyors of the practical and hard-to-find."

"Business really started to take off in the 50s," he said. "My grandfather was really good at publicity, and he got the Saturday Evening Post to do a whole feature story on the happy storekeeper of the Green Mountains, and as a result, tens of thousands of people got in their cars and drove up to the hills of Vermont to come and visit."

The Vermont Country Store sells a variety of products from penny candy and cheese to adult footed pajamas and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots. Gardner Orton said the products they sell are "things that you don't readily find avaialbe in other retail stores."

If the store doesn't have what consumers are looking for, the Ortons said they will go out and find it and bring it back to the customers.

"Over the years, our customers have always written to us and ask us to assist in finding it for them," Eliot said. "Tangee, which was the lipstick coined as 'the lipstick your mother would let you wear' -- we went out and found, and now we are the only store offering that."

Stores like the Vermont Country Store and Brian Florence's Web site, help people find those products of the past but try not to take the old favorites for granted. After all, they may not be there as long as you'd think.