At Utica’s Little Soda Shop, just about any flavor goes, including Barf and Bloody Nose
Thirsty for Barf?
Or maybe you’re hankering for a delicious Bloody Nose? Or a Pimple Pop?
Then head to Utica’s Little Soda Pop Shop, home of labels weird and wild. Some might tickle your funny bone, while others might turn your stomach.
“We have turkey and gravy, we have barf, we have coffee, we have enchilada, bacon, bacon with chocolate, bacon with maple …,” said co-owner Jean Blair. “We have a variety,”
‘some of them are very good … Bloody Nose is a wild cherry. Pimple Pop is a marshmallow soda’
But don’t judge a book by its cover — or a soda by its label. Just ask Blair, who has tried almost every one of the 350-plus flavors in her shop.
“There aren’t really any that I have totally disliked,” Blair said. “Even our gross sodas, some of them are very good. … Bloody Nose is a wild cherry. Pimple Pop is a marshmallow soda.”
Such are the treasures found amid the burgeoning world of craft soda. You’ve heard of the craft beer craze? Craft sodas — made in small batches and intended for niche tastes — are a similar, growing trend.
Globally, the craft-soda market hit $651 million in 2021, according to Grand View Research. That’s a small fraction of the total worldwide soda market of $416 billion. However, craft-soda sales are rising at about the same rate, 5%. In other words, more and more people are getting a taste for sodas you probably won’t find on the mega-grocery shelves next to Coke and Pepsi.
That’s the appeal of the Little Soda Pop Shop, 723 S. Clark St. in Utica. It’s the only shop in central Illinois with a sole focus on soda.
Blair and her husband, Scott, first got into retail treats with their Little Land of Candy -N- More in Chillicothe, which sold some quirky sodas. In 2019, they decided to branch out with soda only. In Utica, they found an ideal slot between a candy shop and cupcake bakery, “a great combination,” said Jean Blair.
Village President David Stewart said the shop suits a tourist town like Utica, located next to Starved Rock State Park.
“It’s a neat place,” he said. “It’s not like any shop you’ll find anyplace else. Businesses like that make Utica unique. It’s a welcome addition to the community.”
Especially on weekends, visitors to Utica roam about, looking for something eye-catching. And they get an eyeful at the Little Soda Pop Shop, row after row after row of colorful bottles and labels.
“They’re like, ‘Omigosh, look at all these sodas! I’ve not seen all these sodas before!’” Blair said.
Sodas run from $2.95 for most bottles to $7.99 for some of the half-gallon jugs.
Young customers tend toward the most outrageous labels, those from disgusting (Slime Licker) to quizzical (Fungal Fruit) to intimidating (Reaper Roulette).
And the aforementioned Barf soda? It sounds scary because the label gives no indication as to what lurks inside.
“It is made of beets,” Blair said. “But that is the only soda that doesn’t have a flavor listed. It says it’s a ‘great, chunky flavor.’”
Actually, the taste is citrusy. But “citrus” won’t grab kids’ attention like “Barf.”
Otherwise, the clientele includes a good number of grown-ups. Some regulars come in for mass-produced brands like Squirt and Dr. Pepper. Why? Like all sodas at the shop, they’re sold in a glass bottle.
“The glass bottle just tastes better,” Blair said.
Other adults thrive on connoisseur-like selections. Some flavors (like honey-pear) are specialized, while others (like berries and cream) seem like dessert.
“Those soda people like the variety of different flavors, something they can try different than what they’ve had before,” Blair said.
Some like flights. You might have heard of flights at breweries, where craft-beer fans try small samples of multiple beers. At Little Soda Pop Shop, tourists often create custom flights to take to their hotels.
Adults tend toward nostalgia … ‘brands not found everywhere anymore, like Green River’
“People will get a (mixed) four-pack or six-pack and go, ‘Let’s go back to the room and try these,’” Blair said.
Meanwhile, some adults tend toward nostalgia. Sometimes, that means the label, such as that for Farrah Fawcett Cream Soda, which mirrors her famous 1970s poster. They also go for brands not found everywhere anymore, like Green River, Moxie and Frostie.
“It’s like bringing back their childhood,” Blair said. “They’ll take that first sip and it’s like, ‘I remember that!’”