Late one night in 1996 while working at his computer, Hamilton Rousseau got tired of running out of sodas and smokes.
That's when Rousseau suddenly made a dramatic and fateful 180-degree leap out of the future back into the past.
For almost six years the award-winning, internationally-recognized theorist and visionary had been hard at work on a treatise projecting his twenty-year study of people, society and technology well into the twenty-first century. So you'd have thought he would be the last person to ever look back to 'the good old days.'
But that night Rousseau clicked "file:quit" on his futuristic project and set upon creating an old-fashioned soda pop and tobacco shop reminiscent of his childhood.
Appropriately, he named it Ifs Ands & Butts, a tribute of sorts to his unfinished tome since life in the new technological age he had been researching and writing about seemed to consist of little else. Concerned about the loss of community, Rousseau intended to prove we could do better the old fashioned way.
In what had been his storefront loft's living room, Rousseau created a unique, engaging little shop featuring the icons not of a computer in virtual reality, but of an earlier, easier, more friendly life and time in the real world of real people.
Foremost of Rousseau's much-missed icons of bygone days was good, old-fashioned personal service—home style. Remember, even though you were in a shop, you were actually in Rousseau's home as he still lived in the back a la "Open All Hours." So visitors coming in were always treated more like friends in the parlor than customers.
Then there were the smokes he was always running out of. Rousseau was well aware of what cigarettes had turned into with some 400 chemical additives. So he brought in the metroplex's largest selection of old-fashioned all-tobacco, all-natural cigarettes—something that virtually disappeared thirty years ago when replaced by "nicotine delivery devices." As an admirer of a good stoogie, he also imported hand-rolled cigars from the world's finest, pre-Castro-era tobacconists. He brought in as well the largest selection of hard-to-find vintage-style smoking accessories anywhere in the Southwest. "If you're going to smoke," Rousseau would say, "do it with a little style."
And last, but ultimately the most important of all, were the beloved sodas he always ran out of, too. So he found and imported from all around the country, the world and the past more than 135 flavors of genuine old-fashioned glass-bottled soda pop, which had also disappeared decades ago along with bottle deposits. It was the first and largest selection of soda pop in glass bottles ever offered the public by any shop in the world. And the first to ever be offered on the new World Wide Web, too.
Even though a noted strategist and entrepreneur with an extensive background in pioneering new markets, Rousseau did not foresee the far-reaching impact his little shop would have, particularly since he opened it not as a real business, but as a little social experiment.
After all, the shop was located—like Rousseau himself—well off the beaten path. And in a long forsaken part of town to boot. Then there was the matter of the political incorrectness of selling nicotine, caffeine and sugar. So how much business could the tiny little out-of-the-way shop do?
When Ifs Ands & Butts became an instant smash hit, Rousseau was caught completely off guard. Even Rousseau's banter and stories about sodas, history, the future, life and the times were an instant hit, too! Primarily because as good conversation should be, all views and ideas were shared and savored with a fine beverage, which to Rousseau was a glass-bottled soda pop.
First, friends brought friends, who brought more friends, who all soon brought a huge media parade to the little shop. The public's and the media's infatuation with Rousseau's unique blend of worlds quickly lead to Ifs Ands & Butts becoming the most publicized shop in the country! It also created entirely new markets and a new industry for old-fashioned glass-bottle soda across the nation and around the web as what Rousseau had started spured demand for this dormant but potent iconic product. It wasn't long before Dr Pepper and Coke both took serious notice and joined in the frey.
The result: over a continuous span of nine straight years, the list of local, state, national, international and internet media stories, features, awards and honorable mentions that Ifs Ands & Butts and Hamilton Rousseau received grew to be totally unprecedented for a little owner-operated shop of any kind.
Obviously Rousseau was very pleased, not to mention stunned, with all this attention that just came out of the blue on a silver platter. And pleased in more ways than one.
So much really good publicity for his shop also meant really good publicity for something else he had grown to love: the historic Bishop Arts District. All the media coverage had a very beneficial effect on the depressed property values in the District and surrounding neighborhoods which was enabling the restoration of its noteworthy but deteriorating trolly-era buildings.
In 2001, a publically-funded $3.4 million restoration of the neglected historic district got underway. And soon more shops and restaurants began to open to critical acclaim of their own. All the combined press finally made it not only okay, but "in" to cross the Trinity River and visit what had long been one of Dallas' most distinctive but widely avoided destinations.
To Rousseau all this was particularly important, because the restoration and revitalization of the trolley-era community had also been something Rousseau had envisioned and been working hard to make happen since 1993. That was when he first proposed the ambitious idea to Jim Lake Sr., the dominant property owner who saved many of the old boarded-up buildings in 1983 and made them inhabitable again.
In appreciation, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony the community presented Rousseau with the "Trolley Track Award," a plaque on which was mounted a section of an iron rail from the old trolley tracks that once ran down Bishop Avenue by his shop. He was one of four people and the only private citizen to receive this very special honor. The other three honorees were City of Dallas officials and City Councilmember Laura Miller, who subsequently became Mayor of Dallas.
If you ask, though, Rousseau will tell you he is most proud of all the many hoped-for smiles on his many visitors' faces upon taking a step off the street out of the "real" world into a living past they thought did not, could not, exist anymore and missed very much—until that moment.
© 1996-2005 Hamilton Rousseau