Take Me to the Candy Shop
— Danielle J. Moran & Xavier Lopez
“He’s as happy as a kid in a candy store.” It’s an idiom that dates back to a golden age of sweets. An era when there were few events more exciting than skipping into a wonderland, where glass containers cased gummy bears and jelly beans, chocolate covered almonds and strips of sugar covered in sour flavoring.
It was a child’s dream often frequented after the receipt of an acceptable report card or a Sunday morning church visit. Although that expression is still used colloquially, think about the last time you’ve been to a candy shop. Have you ever brought your children to one? Today when kale and avocado toast are more on trend then lollipops and cinnamon drops what has happened to candy stores in New York City?
One consequence of this sugar adverse era is an evolution from local candy shops to confectionery experiences. Instead of exclusively selling bags of candy, candy stores are providing customer adventures. No one candyman (or in this case candywoman) has elevated the notion of a candy shop than Dylan Lauren of Dylan’s Candy Bar.
Ms. Lauren has transformed the New York City candy scene by “creating the world’s largest confectionery emporium and lifestyle brand, Dylan’s Candy Bar.” Including its flagship location on 60th and Third Avenue, Ms. Lauren has expanded to five locations within New York City and boasts 14 outposts nationwide. Her stores are branded as an experience that combines art, fashion and pop culture with candy. Retail merchandise includes over 7,000 different edibles in addition to stationary, clothing, even beauty products. Walk into the original Dylan’s location on 60th Street and prepare for sensory overload. Vibrant colors of intense magnitude fight for dominance, as eyes dart from sugar strips to gummy bears to multicolored coated almonds.
Head upstairs and sit down at the Ice Cream & Dessert Parlor, or if you’re only a kid at heart, there is an option to enjoy a candy flavored cocktail. Dylan’s escalates the traditional candy shop as Ms. Lauren has expanded her sweets into a nation wide experience driven empire.
In contrast to Dylan Lauren’s business model going big, Fine & Raw Chocolates in Bushwick went small. Founded by Brooklyn artist, Daniel Sklaar, Fine & Raw Chocolate manufactures organic, raw, small batch chocolate that is sold both at the factory on Seigel Street in Brooklyn and by local purveyors. Each bar has a limited number of ingredients, void of dairy and refined sugars. The factory’s aim is to create chocolate from “the bean to the bar…without messing with it too much” says Director of Operations, Ryann Mead. Raw cacao is a designated superfood full of “heart healthy antioxidants that prevent disease and lower cholesterol” according to Carolyn Brown, MS, RD a New York City nutritionist at Foodtrainers.
Fine & Raw is focused on sourcing their ingredients from local and family owned farms, which have a strong commitment to sustainable farming practices. Mead emphasized that it is important for them to be involved in every step of production to insure quality, consistency and healthiness. “We are really really in control of the flavors and the sourcing of where everything is coming from.” Says Mead. “So it’s a lot more work, but it is more intimate and a lot more thoughtful than mass produced chocolate.”
Fine & Raw represents a millennial approach to candy shops. They developed a sustainable business specializing in organic chocolate marketable to individuals who are looking for a healthy sweet. According to Mead, artisanal chocolate is a niche market that combines local culture and collaboration.
With the rise of candy emporiums and specialized local shops, what has happened to old fashioned candy shops? Well they do still exist. A quintessential example is Economy Candy. Founded in 1937, it is the oldest continuously operated candy store in Manhattan. Family owned, Mitchell Cohen is the shops current owner and was previously operated by his father and grandfather.
The store is an Lower East Side staple that patrons have been visiting for generations and that is what they pride themselves on — stocking candy that transcends age. “When people realize they can get a pound of old fashioned candy, Toosie Rolls, Mary Janes, Smarties etc. for $2.99, it brings a big smile to their faces” Cohen shared. The business has expanded to the digital space with a website and social media presence brining confections to displaced New Yorkers across the country.
Taking a trip to Eddie’s Sweet Shop is like getting on a time machine and going back to the mid 1900s. While the establishment has been there since 1909, the shop still has one of the first Frigidaire refrigerators that were ever made, the moniker of Eddie’s Sweet Shop is more recent. The shop was bought by Guiseppe Citrano in 1969 and has been taken care by the Citrano family ever since.
The shop has historically sold mostly ice cream, but it also sells everything from candy to sundaes and all types of sweets in between. The owner Vito Citrano, Guiseppe’s son, makes all of the ice cream, whipped cream and caramel inhouse. They’re sticklers for doing things “the old fashioned way.”
The shop’s affinity for antiquity is behind the shop’s nostalgic aesthetic. Metallic bowls to serve ice cream, old fashioned signs, stools and even the lighting. Some of the stuff should’ve been changed, in terms of convenience for the shop, but the owner refuses to, because it interferes with the overall look of the shop. The shop has remained a museum of a time when the sweet shop was king. Nowadays, that is not necessarily the case.
Daniele Olmos, a 19 year old server at the shop talks about how this kind of shop does receive appreciation, but it mostly from its older crowd. “The younger kids usually tend to get dragged by their parents” She says, “they would come here as kids and bring their kids to enjoy the same experiences they did, but a lot of the time it’s just lost on them.”
The shop is one of the few old school sweet shops in New York that has stood the test of time and has been able to stay standing after all of this time. In a world where rent prices are going up and kids are more interested in cell phone games, this sweet shop remains unmoved, and some would say untouched, by time.
Despite avocado-toast-loving millennials, candy shops are still thriving in New York City. Some have chosen to expand into candy superstores, serving sugar sweet alcohol and franchising a candy experience. Others have found niche markets catering to a specific clientele, but those old school candy shops your grandparents talk about — they are still thriving serving generations of customers just looking to be as happy as a kid in a candy store.