On opening day in March at Village Candy in Sewickley, customers lined up for 45 minutes at the cash register at this new, old-fashioned style candy store reminiscent of their past--or the past they wish they had. Remember Cherry Mash? Black Jack gum? Old-fashioned soda brimming with real flavor? Village Candy has it.
"This is, like, the coolest place I've ever been!" says little Maggie as she plunked down her allowance for Wonka Bottlecaps. Maggie's mom told owner Doug Alpern that what she really missed from her childhood in the South was Goo-goo Clusters. When Alpern pointed them out, Maggie lit up. Moonpies? Alpern made a note of it.
Eager customers are full of suggestions in this nostalgic emporium on Beaver St in the thriving commercial district of Sewickley. "You should get something so kids could lick the walls,” says Chelsea, a 14-year old fashionista. Her friends, toting big handfuls of gummi candy and "so sour-wait till you taste it!" concoctions, hooted their appreciation.
Sugary treats at this colorful and inviting store include a soda collection that would please the most discerning connoisseurs, from an excellent Stewart's selection, Baritt's Pineapple Ginger Beer and Kickapoo Joy Juice to Ravin' Red Soda, and—my favorite—Brain Wash Carbonated Drink "for a change of mind."
So what did this sucker for retro candy end up buying? A mug with 1920s vintage art showing a cat and two girls (Compagnie Francaise des Chocolats et des Thès), some Sen-sen (old-time breath freshener), specialty Dr. Pepper made with Imperial Pure Cane Sugar in an 8-oz. glass bottle, and an Idaho Spud (squishy chocolate marshmallow inside that melts in your mouth like crème brulée, covered with an flaky chocolate covering dusted with coconut). Check out the Spud website and join the Spud fan club!
McKeesport Candy Company
Doug Alpern's passion for candy and building a sense of community has made an admirer out of Jon Prince at McKeesport Candy Co. Prince’s family has been in the candy business in McKeesport since 1927. In 1998, they launched their website, CandyFavorites which, they say, has the distinction of being "the Internet's largest candy store." Unlike Internet retailers like Amazon, all of the candy is on hand in the warehouse in McKeesport. So if you're craving the Original Cracker Retro Jacks (not the inferior modern version), you can have it delivered in a couple of days. And hey, who can wait any longer?
Prince, is, shall we say, really nuts about candy—his site devotes pages to education of the sweet stuff and features a candy blog .
"When you buy candy, you're buying a metaphor for your past,” says Prince, who looks to classic stores like Candy-Rama for inspiration. “When you come to our site, we want it to be the same as walking into the store." Photos of the family business and products from the 1920s and 30s make the connection between e-commerce and the real bricks-and-mortar warehouse.
For retro candy enthusiasts, the site is heaven: Abba-Zabbas and Boston Baked Beans à la carte, or, for $19.98 get a Nostalgic Candy Retro Gift Box with Atomic Fireballs, Bit-O-Honey, Butterscotch, Candy Necklaces, Candy Sticks, Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, Pixy Stix, Rock Candy, Root Beer Barrels, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Wax Bottles and Wax Lips. Sweet.
Prince sees CandyFavorites as more than a place on the Web to get cool candy: it's a lifestyle site for adults. And it’s a huge draw these days. "A bad economy fuels retro candy,” he says. “We don't have a lot of money left over for luxury. Instead of going out for dinner, you want to connect to your past. You want emotional resonance."
Here's the part where kids have to cover their ears: if you need candy garments, such as edible underwear, Prince has a page for that, too.
Mon Aimée Chocolat
When the going gets rough where I work, we reach for chocolate. Not milk chocolate for wussies—we need heavy-duty dark chocolate that packs an aesthetic punch. For chocaholics, Mon Aimée Chocolat on Penn Avenue in the Strip is the place to go.
Owner Amy Rosenfield has a mission to convey the ultimate chocolate experience. Not content with just discovering heavenly creations, she helped develop the unusual flavors of "Les Amis Savories" by Koppers, such as rosemary chocolate morsels for a piquant surprise. We also liked the curry flavored one, which is more subtle and takes a few seconds to develop in your mouth. (The morsels also come in tarragon and sage.) The store carries several brands with various spices like cinnamon and hot peppers, flavors that hearken back to chocolate's earliest incarnation as a bitter drink from Central America.
Continue, and sample the chocolate twigs. This melt in your mouth delicacy is as good as it gets. Don’t overlook the chocolate with sea salt from L'Artigiano. Foodies looking for "single bean" chocolates, the new craze, will only find them in this area at Mon Aimée Chocolat which carries the best from around the world. Pastry chefs, amateur along with professional, come here for a full line of baking chocolates—who knew there were so many kinds—mingling with customers of all ages in this visually appealing store. At the bar in the rear, you can feast on what many say is the best hot chocolate in town—the real stuff, made from top-quality melted chocolate.
Although all the chocolates here are showcased in luscious and beautiful array, the display of Andrew Shotts' confections is especially eye-catching. Shotts, once pastry chef for the now departed Russian Tea Room, designs for E. Guittard of San Francisco. His intoxicating edible sculptures are not to be missed.
Not to be missed
Another classic spot for candy is found in the historic Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor further up the street at 2801 Penn Avenue. This 1920’s era store features a great selection of fizzy sodas and phosphates and a glass-cased candy counter with a mouth-watering selection of penny candies. With its 16-foot marble soda fountain and art deco light fixtures, Klavon’s is a one-of-a-kind Pittsburgh spot, with loyal customers from all over the region.
And while the glory days of Candy-Rama are gone, if you need a serious candy fix while Downtown, you'll find everything you need at the Liberty Avenue location for your desk drawer stash and a complete assortment for kids' birthday parties.
In Pittsburgh, we have plenty of reminders that life is sweet.
Elizabeth Parker last wrote about the Western Pennsylvania Diversity Initiative for Pop City.
Photos:Chocolate truffles at Mon Aimee
Jon Prince at Mckeesport Candy Company
Village Candy storefrontMon AimeeAll photographs copyright © Jonathan Greene