What is it about candy that seems to soothe people's troubles? Tough economic times are upon us, and people are cutting back on all kinds of things. But, at least for now, it seems there's always a little money to be found for a little indulgence.
Like all small businesses, the Fort Pitt Candy Co. is wary of a slow holiday season, but according to store manager Judy Falcon, when people walk into the store, they buy boxes of candy as if it still costs mere pennies.
The Strip District store, which sells a wide variety of "modern" and "old-fashioned" candy by the box, bag and carton, is in the Halloween rush. Large boxes of the most popular items, including Mallo Cups, Zagnut and Clark bars, are stacked right by the door. At this time of year they'll be sold too quickly to keep them stocked on the shelves.
The Pittsburgh area is particularly ripe for lovers of retro candy. Local wholesalers ensure that smaller stores have access to a much wider range of candy than Hershey's bars and Gummi Bears.
Buying candy and eating it can bring back beloved childhood memories, and at many local stores, customers love the atmosphere as much as the products. A number of these places can be found in the Strip.
At Klavon's Authentic 1920's Ice Cream Parlor, customers can sit in a booth or at the counter and enjoy old-fashioned treats, including banana splits, phosphates and egg creams. But the store also sells a wide variety of penny candies. Walking into the store is enough to put a smile on anyone's face, and the staff seems to enjoy selling candy and ice cream as much as the average child enjoys eating them.
For a chocolate lover, walking into Mon Aimee Chocolat for the first time is like living out a fantasy filled with hundreds of chocolate bars, rows and rows of jars filled with colorful candy, and trays of truffles gleaming like jewels inside glass cases.
Since everything old is new again, it's no surprise Mon Aimee Chocolat also showcases the wares of modern chocolatiers, mixing high-end concepts with touches of whimsy and nostalgia. My favorite among these new offerings is the Firecracker Chocolate Bar by Chuao Chocolatier. Made from 60 percent dark chocolate, with chipotle chiles and salt, this is one complex candy bar. But when you take a bite and carbonated sugar (similar to Pop Rocks) explodes in your mouth, you'll feel like a kid again.
In Sewickley, Village Candy sells a wide variety of chocolate and candy, including hard-to-find items, but owner Doug Alpern is particularly proud of the store's supply of sodas. Not Coke, Pepsi and 7-Up, but root beer, cream sodas, ginger-based sodas, orange sodas and many more. At any one time the store has approximately 150 kinds of bottled sodas, including 25 to 35 kinds of root beer.
Even if you can't frequent the same stores you did when you were a child, you may be able to track down that favorite candy you thought was long gone.
It just so happens that the largest online candy store in the world is in our own backyard: The McKeesport Candy Co. has been in operation since 1927, and its warehouse in McKeesport stocks 2,800 different kinds of candy. But nowadays it's mostly known for its online store, www.CandyFavorites.com.
Owner Jon H. Prince is confident about the future of his company as well as other specialty candy stores. "You can always get the great American Hershey bar ... but I think people like to go outside of the box and look for unique items."