Column, Lifestyle, Looking Back

Candy counters from the 1950s

By Mary Ellen Shaw

When neighborhood grocery stores disappeared so did the penny candy counters. Having the opportunity to browse in front of one was a daily occurrence back in the 50s when I was a student at Christ the King School. Young’s Grocery Store was just a few feet down the street.

Considering that over 100 kids got out of school at the same time it was a busy place!  The owners, Charlie and Gerry Young, did not make their living from selling us 5 or 10 cents’ worth of candy. In fact having all of us arrive at once with our pennies, nickels and dimes was probably not the highlight of their day. But you would never know it. They both had the patience of a saint!

I remember standing in front of the counter requesting, “one of those…two of those” etc. as I pointed at what I wanted. Sometimes I had to stop and ask how much money my selections would cost me. If I had asked for more candy than I had money, the extra candy still ended up in my bag! I now realize that it took someone with a sunny disposition to deal with all of us kids!

Actual customers probably avoided the store at school dismissal time. As an adult looking back, I would have.

So what was behind the glass window at the counter? There was Bazooka bubble gum and its competitor, Dubble Bubble gum. We always wanted to see who could blow the biggest bubble. The boys bought bubble gum packets with baseball cards. They would trade with their friends to get cards of their favorite players.

You would also find candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigarettes. Kids used to let them hang from their mouths as they mimicked the adult nicotine habit. When I researched what candy cigarettes were made from I noticed that one brand used molasses, licorice, wheat flour and sugar.

Gummy Mexican hats were popular as you could select different colored hats for different flavors. My husband, Peter, didn’t have a neighborhood grocery store near his school like I did. But there was one within a couple of blocks of his home in New Jersey. He remembers that any type of “gummy candy” was a hit with his friends. I think my husband’s love for fishing began with his purchase of Swedish fish gummies – his favorite.

Another popular candy was licorice. There were a few different options when you chose that candy. There were “wheels” that consisted of narrow strips of black licorice, rolled five or six times. They looked like an old fashioned record only instead of a hole in the middle the candy had a red hot center. They were delicious. You could also buy long twisted strips of either black or red licorice. Even Mexican hats were available in black licorice flavor.

Sometimes you really “lived it up” and bought an entire candy bar. Charleston Chew was a favorite of many. I believe it’s still available today but its height of popularity was a few decades ago. In case you aren’t familiar with it the inside is chewy flavored nougat and the outside of the bar is chocolate.  If we could manage to not eat it before we got home it was a great bar to freeze. This candy bar brings back memories of an ice cream cart that was outside the old city pool on North Main Street. We used to treat ourselves to a frozen Charleston Chew before we hopped on our bikes to head home.

Candy cases also had a small bite-size bar called a Mary Jane. It was in a gold wrapper with a red stripe. The molasses flavored candy had a peanut butter center. The little girl who is pictured on the wrapper is wearing a dress with the name “Mary Jane” embroidered near the bottom of the hem.

Halloween was a real “treat” when it came to the contents of the candy case. Wax items such as lips, moustaches and fangs remained in our mouths for quite a long time before they were actually eaten. Looking at each other while we wore them was part of the fun. Another interesting item was a wax bottle with a liquid inside that you could sip on as chewed your way down the bottle.

A rather unique candy came in a straw-like cylinder and had a sweet, tangy powder inside. You poured it onto your tongue. The cool part was when the powder was a green or blue color. You would stick out your colored tongue for all to see. I don’t remember the exact name of the candy back then but today’s version of Pixy Stix is very similar.

This trip down memory lane clearly shows why young people had so many cavities “back in the day”!

Gone are the neighborhood stores with candy counters but the fun memories of them live on!

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