While taking road trips around the United States, we love coming across mom-and-pop businesses — like old-fashioned bakeries and roadside motels — that have been in the same family for generations. Beth Lennon has made it her life’s work to find such places; better known online by her alter ego “Mod Betty,” she’s the engaging writer behind RetroRoadmap.com, whose tagline is “cool vintage places and retro fun.”
Mod Betty’s goal is to reveal businesses with authentic local flavor and vintage charm. As she says, “Picture a classic diner with Formica counters, whose edges have been scalloped from years of use, or a store with a mid-century neon sign blazing out front.”
That’s all part of the visual appeal that signify retro businesses she likes to highlight.
Lennon, a Massachusetts native, relocated to the Philadelphia area and was excited to discover Phoenixville. “The renovation of the Colonial Theatre is why we moved there, and it kind of started my blog. People championing the preservation of such a treasure were my kind of people.”
Lennon’s blog is national in scope, but so many of the places she unearths are in the Philadelphia region. Her newest Retro Roadmap Roadbooks focuses on Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania suburbs.
“When I create a book, I’m a hostess for the area,” Lennon said in our recent conversation. “I want to send readers places where they’ll get an authentic vintage experience. Once these places are gone, they’re gone. They don’t make ‘new’ old places.”
She noted that modern technology can help the preservation efforts. “These places are Instagram-worthy; it’s good for business to highlight these vintages touches.”
Lennon has unearthed many sites that offer a trip down memory lane, such as Rockwell Lanes in Gettysburg, the last remaining duckpin bowling alley in Pennsylvania. Drive-ins — dining or viewing — are retro staples; take your honey to see a movie at Vineland’s Delsea Drive-in (the last in New Jersey), then stop by for a snack at Weber’s in Pennsauken, where a car hop will bring the burgers and root beer out to you.
We’re always on the lookout for sweet treats, and Mod Betty has that covered. She recommends the original location of Termini Brothers Bakery in South Philly (1523 S. Eighth St.). “Between the neon sign out front and watching your cannolis filled to order, it’s an old-school experience.” Or try Haegle’s Bakery in Mayfair (4164 Barnett St.), where they’ve been cranking out German specialties like butterkuchen since 1930.
We couldn’t let Lennon go without getting a recommendation for donuts. “I test a place by their raised glazed donut, and those at Danish Bakers in Rockledge (107 Huntingdon Pike) are among the best.”
We’ll give them a try, but first we’ll have to tear ourselves away from our own retro-fave: Frangelli’s, a 67-year-old establishment at 847 W. Ritner St. in South Philly, whose jelly donut we’ve previously rated as the best in the country.
Philadelphia natives Larissa and Michael Milne have been full-time global nomads since 2011. Follow their journey at changesinlongitude.com.