Sweet Memories

Kim Tran remembers a time when she could rustle up five pennies, go down to the candy shop and buy herself a lollipop. But inflation hits the inner child especially hard. Today, five pennies might get her a Swedish Fish or two. And even with enough pennies saved up, a lot of the classic sweets are nowhere to be found. Whatever happened to Big Hunks? To candy buttons and stick candy?

When Tran opened CandiTopia on Chapel Street in early August, she wanted to bring back some of that old-school sugar. And while kids can’t exactly walk in with several pennies and come away chowing down, CandiTopia’s blasts from the past make convincing a parent to take them inside a lot easier. Rock candy outcroppings stand in the window along with swirling lollipop batons. Inside, from the knees up—or eye level for young children—is a bank of scoops and bins filled with Choco Rocks, Juju Cinnamon Bears, sour cherries, fruit gems and more.

Above these, a colorful row of Jelly-Belly jelly bean dispensers can be seen from the street, strategically placed and lit to grab the attention of passersby. They contain 36 varieties of beans including adult-friendly flavors like Margarita, Piña Colada, Cantaloupe and Cappuccino.

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But the real throwbacks are in the back of the store. Behind a corner is an alcove filled with Slo Pokes and Zagnuts, Look! and Oh Henry! bars, Boyer Smoothie peanut butter cups and Broadway licorice rolls. A lover of sweets herself, Tran says one of her favorite old-time confections is the Abba-Zaba: a taffy and peanut butter bar that comes in a yellow-and-black taxi-checkered wrapper and tastes something like a fluffernutter sandwich.

Quite a bit of nostalgia is wrapped up in these sugary treats. One woman who walked into the store gushed, “You brought back so much of my childhood. This place is amazing!” That’s the idea, Tran says. “You don’t see that kind of reaction in other stores.”

CandiTopia carries boxes of candy sorted according to the decade of their heyday, from the ’90s to the ’50s. And for Millennials still searching for the entrance to Platform 9 ¾, CandiTopia also stocks Jelly Slugs, Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (also produced by Jelly Belly).

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For the longer-time longers, there’s La Pipette black liquorice pipes from the Czech Republic. For grade-schoolers with a hard streak, there are candy cigarettes and chocolate cigars. For Halloween treats and clownishly fun tricks, the shop carries wax fangs, lips and mustaches and, by the register, jawbreakers the size and weight of baseballs.

Those looking for something less hallowed should hit CandiTopia’s glass display cases, stocked with stuff from chocolatiers in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and various parts of New England. Some of their most popular sellers, I’m told, are the truffles with flavors like Amaretto, Champagne, Irish Cream and Black Forest. A white-shelled Tiramisu ball delivered an excellent rendition of that Italian pastry’s operetta of coffee, cocoa, ladyfingers and mascarpone.

Although CandiTopia is great for finding novelty sweets, it’s not the place to do big-batch shopping. The vintage items tend to be sold at prices reflecting their scarcity, and among the self-serve bins, even common candy brands—like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Sour Patch Kids and of course those Jelly Belly beans—go for $3.75 per ¼ pound, meaning they sell much more cheaply, pound for pound, in a conventional supermarket. Then again, if you want just a taste of a bunch of different kinds, buying it by the quarter-pound at CandiTopia is far less expensive in sum, and better for your health, than buying lots of higher-quantity, standalone packages at the grocery store.

Anyway, candy from a candy store just feels like more of a treat. It recalls what it was like when we were very young and nearly every aspect of life was controlled by someone else, except on those rare occasions when Mom or Dad would give us a dollar or two to spend among color-blasted, sugar-stuffed bins of instant gratifications, and the choices were ours, only ours, to make.

1022 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10-6pm
(203) 498-0330

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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