I’ve been thinking about candy stores lately—maybe because I don’t see them around anymore, not like the ones from my youth. There are stores in malls and other places that sell candy.
My earliest recollection of a candy store was the one my parents operated when I was four or five years old. My grandmother owned the store. I think Grandpa may have bought it for his retirement from Con Edison, the New York power company. Whether my grandfather got to retire is something else I don’t know for sure. He had a fatal heart attack while driving home with my grandmother one night. They said he died in my grandmother’s arms right out on the sidewalk. He was a heavy smoker, which must have been the underlying cause. I remember going in the middle of the night to Corona, New York, from Staten Island, where we lived. They said Grandpa was on the couch in the living room. I don’t know how he got there. I looked through the door but could only see the back of the sofa, and they wouldn’t let me go into the room.
After his death, Grandma asked my parents to take over the store, so we moved to Corona. There was an apartment in the back where we lived. The store was on 37th Avenue, one block west of Junction Boulevard, a busy street and business district. My mother didn’t like living in Corona. She didn’t enjoy working in the store either. I didn’t understand why my father continued to work as a machinist. I think it was because they couldn’t make enough money in the candy store for us to live on.
I remember them complaining that they couldn’t get the newspaper delivery trucks to bring us the daily papers. They delivered to similar stores on Junction Boulevard but wouldn’t drive the one block to us. People came in looking for newspapers, but we didn’t have them. My parents complained that’s why the store wasn’t profitable.
We did sell candy, ice cream, soda fountain drinks, bottled sodas, and cigarettes. You would think living in a candy store would allow you to eat all the candy you wanted. I wasn’t allowed to do that. Their profit margin was so tight they couldn’t afford to have me eat the profits.
An Italian couple older than my parents lived upstairs. They would have these terrible fights with a lot of screaming and shouting. We would hear dishes and other objects crashing to the floor. Then, things would quiet down. The next day, we would see the man putting tied up broken pieces of furniture out at the curb for the sanitation pick up.
Some young guys, teenagers, hung out in the store. My parents liked them and let them do that. Behind the soda counter, they kept coffee cups filled with sorted change, pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Someone grabbed a couple of cups and took off when my parents weren’t watching.
I think that was the final draw. My mother wanted no part of the business. Since my father worked his full-time job, she was alone in the store for most of the day. I don’t think we were there too much longer when Grandma decided to sell the failing business. Then, we moved to one of Grandma’s other houses in Corona on 44th Avenue, just off 108th Street. This would be the house where I would grow up.
That brings me to the candy store I would sink my teeth into. Dominick’s Candy Store was around the corner from our house. It was on 108th Street next to 43rd Avenue. Dominick, like many neighborhood people, was a first-generation Italian. He was tall with dark hair and spoke English with a heavy accent. His wife, a short, squat woman, didn’t speak much English, but she could understand us when we asked for something. She wasn’t very friendly. Like my family did in our store—they lived in the apartment in the back.
Unlike our store, they sold newspapers that sat on a stand outside the front door of the tiny store. There was a counter to your left when you walked in with four backless stools that we liked to sit and spin around. The owners frowned upon that. Opposite those stools, a small, refrigerated case held tubs of flavored ices that they served in the summer. Lemon ice was the most popular, but they also had chocolate and cherry. You could get a paper cup with one scoop for a nickel and a larger cup with two scoops for ten cents. There was nothing as refreshing on hot summer days and evenings. The wall behind where the ices were served contained sundries in glass cases that went from floor to ceiling and to the back of the store.
The red and white Coca-Cola tub was on that side of the store. It had two covers that you lifted towards the middle. I especially liked the twelve-ounce bottles of Mission fruit-flavored soda that Plaza Soda Company made and distributed. There were also bottles of delicious Yoo-hoo chocolate drinks. They all sat in water up to their necks—big chunks of ice in the water kept things cold. There was nothing like going in on a hot summer day and getting one of those bottled drinks.
If you wanted something made from scratch, you sat at the counter, and Dominick or his wife worked the soda fountain. They could put a splash of Coke syrup into a cone-shaped cup that fit into a metal base. Then, they squirted the seltzer into the cup and stirred it. It was only ten cents. You could get malted milkshakes in which they put several scoops of ice cream, milk, syrup, and malted mix. They put the metal cup on a mixer that whirred it into a smooth, thick drink. The favorites were vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavored and served in a tall wide glass. Those set you back a quarter. Egg creams were popular too. They served them in a tall glass in which they put a little milk, syrup (usually chocolate or vanilla), and topped off with seltzer. They could make you delicious ice cream sodas too. They contained an ice cream of your choice, syrup, and seltzer. They were served in a tall glass with whipped cream, a cherry on top, and a long spoon to scoop out the ice cream. They cost a quarter. If you wanted a banana split, they could make them too. I think they were fifty cents.
Dominick’s was famous for its ice cream cones. You got them in a plain or sugar cone at the soda fountain. For ten cents, you bought two big scoops of ice cream on the cone of your choice. There were the usual vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. Some of my family’s favorite flavors were vanilla fudge, butter pecan, pistachio, cherry vanilla with big pieces of cherry (my father’s favorite). The line on a summer evening was usually out the door. People came from blocks away to enjoy Dominick’s ice cream. I think the brand was the creamy smooth Breyer’s.
The candy case was next to the soda fountain, with a small space between them for the proprietors to walk. The pretzel stick jar was sitting on top of the case’s flat top. Those long salted sticks were delicious to eat with anything the store had to drink, especially the egg creams. They were two cents apiece or three for five cents. Inside the case, there were so many delicious candies to choose from: dark licorice, red licorice, Chuckles (one of my father’s favorites), marshmallow twists covered in chocolate, Chunky Chocolate, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Hershey bars with and without almonds, Almond Joys, Mounds, Good and Plenty, and many more tasty penny candies. I remember the tiny different flavored dots stuck to a long sheet of white paper. Red wagon wheels were one of my favorites. They also had those little banana candies that were pure sugar. Do you have some favorites of your own?
There were two wooden phone booths at the end of the candy case, and a few feet away was a doorway that led to the apartment where the owners lived. There was also an apartment upstairs. I don’t know who lived upstairs or if Dominick and his family live there.
Now that I’ve tweaked your sugar munchies, do you have your own remembrances of your favorite candy store that you would like to share?