Candy Stores

by Harry T. Roman

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Whatever happened to penny candies….. Mary Janes, Grape Gum Balls and Jawbreakers? A nickel candy bar so big you couldn’t eat it all? Where did they all go?

They were here just a minute ago. Did you see them?

In my old neighborhood there were candy stores everywhere--not quite on every corner, but there were plenty of them.

“What’ll you have kid?”

“Let’s see, I’ve got 10 cents. Give me a cherry Coke,… make that a vanilla Coke; and I’ll have a Baby Ruth.”

“Oohh a big spender!”

You went there on your way to school and stopped back on your way home. It was your way station, a trading post stop along the pony express trail to school. Maybe you needed a ball point pen, or a piece of white poster paper for a school project, loose leaf paper hole re-enforcers, or perhaps it was a bottle of South Sea Blue ink for your fountain pen. [Gee if I knew those old fountain pens would have become antiques, I would have saved my old imitation wood Esterbrook!] Better pick up a pack of construction paper too; and throw in one of those big soft erasers. Well as long as I am here, I might as well play a game of pinball. Those flashing lots and ringing bells, made you want to keep feeding the monster with money.

Mom and dad used to say, “It’s OK to go there and behave yourself, but don’t hang on the corners; and stay away from those kids that smoke….and don’t get into any of the older kids’ cars!!! Sit at the fountain and have a treat and don’t give Slim any trouble.”

Every candy store had a guy named Slim. He was there whenever you went, along with that guy who sat at the end of the counter and always seemed to read the same newspaper.

After school and into the evening the older guys would arrive to play the juke box and smooch with their steady girls. The place used to smell of Vitalis, leather jackets, cheap cologne, and hair spray. One carelessly lit match and it was so long Charlie. Old jalopies and custom made rods would be parked outside, dripping crankcase oil all over the street. Remember all those sticky spots of wax and chewing gum on the sidewalk outside the store?

Candy stores and malt shops would always spring up near schools, especially high schools. Barringer had its Blue and White (the school colors) on Park Avenue. They were an essential part of many city neighborhoods, a place to congregate and blow off a little steam—a place to learn how to interact and maybe ask a girl for a date. It was the local watering hole. Where else would you be able to get those odds and ends like newspapers, comic books, hair curlers or bobby pins, that ice cream Sunday you had been tasting since 6th period, or a paperback to read for school. It was yesterday’s version of today’s convenience store.

At night in the pale soft glow of the candy store windows, under the stars, the singing groups would gather and harmonize. Many singing groups cut their teeth on Newark Street corners. You could hear “Blue Moon”, “Earth Angel”, “You Belong to Me” and other well-rehearsed tunes. The police circled frequently on hot nights and as long as everyone behaved, it was just a few wary glances. A candy store without a singing group….well, it just didn’t seem right.

“Hey did anyone find those penny candies yet? I need some sugar.”

“Blue moon…you saw me standing alone……….”


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