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Get Your Kicks on Route 66

On maps, it starts in Chicago and ends, about 2,400 miles later, in Santa Monica, Calif. But as an idea, Route 66 runs through the heart of American pop culture. Synonymous with the adventure of the open road, the old federal highway has been immortalized in song, on TV, in books, and in movies.

The route has been decertified as a highway, but its still identified as Route 66 in many towns along its original course. And while there might be faster ways to get from Chicago to Santa Monica and points in between, there are still travelers who prefer to explore the small towns and Main Streets of America by sticking to the old road.

Part of the draw for these travelers, says David Listokin, a professor at Rutgers University, is the unique businesses that line the old route. In 2011, Listokin co-authored a study with the National Park Service about the economic opportunities for businesses along the road. “It’s America the way it used to be,” said Listokin. “The restaurants are individually owned, they’re not chains. People can speak to the proprietor. The small business aspect is one of the distinguishing features of Route 66, and why people travel it. Otherwise, why not just take the interstate?”

Those visitors to America’s Main Streets are spending nearly $132 million annually, and support about 2,400 jobs. In some cases, these route-side businesses are what keep the town on the map. In others, they have been the linchpin to a Main Street revival.Click ahead to read about some of the unique businesses that have survived — or been revived on — Route 66.

By Patricia Orsini
Posted 3 July 2012

Photo: Sindre Ellingsen | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images