I grew up eating candy. Usually, there were penny candies in my pants pockets, under my pillow, hidden under my elementary school desk top, and wherever else I could squeeze them in.
My mother monitored my candy intake as best she could as she warned me, "Candy will spoil your appetite if you eat before dinner." Still, I chewed on my hidden candy wherever I could even if was before dinner. The candy store in my neighborhood was a short walk from our house. My elementary school friends and I would grab a bunch of soda pop bottles which had deposit on them. To the candy store, we would walk with a big or pop bottles which we would redeem for the money the bottles would bring. For the 2 cents or 5 cents each bottle would bring in those days, we rarely put any into our pockets. We simply gave the pennies back to Mr. Williams who ushered us to the candy counter where there were huge jars of everything sweet.
I thought about those days when I visited b.a. sweetie Candy Company's warehouse in Cleveland.
"It's the largest candy warehouse in North America," said company owner Tom Scheiman.
Every day, trucks loaded with more candies than I can count pull into his warehouse. Scheiman sells to supermarket chains and other kinds of stores in the region. But what he is also selling is nostalgia for the small mom-and-pop candy stores which were in probably most neighborhoods. "They are mostly gone now," said Scheiman. But the penny candies are still around (although not for a penny anymore.)
Walking through the aisles of b.a. sweetie prompted my me to remain in my mental time machine and revisit my childhood. I remember in the Cleveland neighborhood of my youth a store that specialized in a soda fountain and a large section of penny candies. Mr. Williams ran the Caster and Williams store and with the few cents from our pop bottles, my friends and I would buy penny candies. There were all kinds. I especially liked a candy called "Squirrels." They were made of chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and peanuts although at the time, I never read the ingredients.
Another of my favorites were dots. They were colorful dots of candy, each about the size of a small button which were stuck to sheets of paper. You could buy dots by how long a roll of paper you wanted. We rolled up the papers and jam them into our pants pockets for easy access at any time, even actually during the dinner meals when our mothers had their backs turned.
Well, candies like those are in huge supplies at b. a. sweetie. I thought Mr. Williams had a lot of candy, but it was nothing like b.a. sweetie.
"We get thousands of pounds of candy a day," said one of the company's employees who was pulling a huge cart loaded with sweets which would be stacked almost to the ceiling at the warehouse at 6770 Brookpark Road in Cleveland.
The company is filled with giggling kids who point in every direction as their parents push shopping carts of sweets, responding to the kids' requests. Of course, the parents, themselves, are buying and eating. The older set is nostalgic for the old days when a penny bought a piece of candy if not two pieces. Scheiman does well with the candy company he bought in 1982 and expanded it significantly.
"I don't think I made any money the first two years," he said as he chewed a banana-flavored saltwater taffy. "But I'm doing okay now," he grinned.
His company was filled with customers who were greeted by a huge talking lollipop at the entrance. The company has become a destination. I saw no one come in who did not go out with candy, or soda pop, or ice cream from Scheiman's soda fountain.
Every kid I talked to could hardly give an answer to what was good in the candy line.
"Well, I like M and M's," said one kid, his eyes as wide as pieces of taffy. "I love Reese's Pieces," said another, as he grabbed a handful of those from the shelf, noticeably placed at a kid's eye level. There are separate bins for different candies which are sold by the pound.
When I was a kid, I thought I was doing good to grab a couple of pieces of chocolate at a time. To buy by the pound was unheard of. Of course, I don't think I could have hidden that much candy from my mom.
But without hesitation, at b.a. sweetie, I bought bags of different kinds of candy. Each piece cost me more than a penny, but who's adding up the price! Certainly, the visit was worth it because aside from candy, I had revisited my childhood. But when I think about it, I guess I never really left my childhood when it comes to candy. Maybe you're the same way. Write me your thoughts at email@example.com. I'll give you a penny for your thoughts. With the money, you can buy some candy.