Remember moving slowly down the row of shelves with your small brown paper bag, eyeballing each bin of candy, doing your own math, mouth watering as you thought about each little treasure? Candy necklaces, Ring Pops, Fun Dip, Sweet tarts, long strips of paper with Dots, lemon drops, gummy fish, BB Bats, bags of Pop Rocks, malt balls, gumdrops, jawbreakers and more.
How, when they brought such joy, did Penny Candy Stores lose their place in our communities? Why do we only find them now in quaint beach villages where we vacation?
Most repeat visitors on Cape Cod have been to Candy Manor in Chatham or the Brewster General Store, where the most crowded aisle is filled with children shouting out prices to their parents, who carry a stub of a pencil and a strip of paper to keep track. The older kids do it themselves. The General Store is one of the few places where the honor system prevails out of necessity. It would take far too long to tally the treats at the register, and half of the candy would be gone before the many kids got through the line.
“Fifteen cents! Sixty cents! One dollar and twenty-five cents!”
The name “penny candy” certainly used to be more valid. But the happiness the process brings to kids remains the same.
Before our trip this year, the boys all began their annual litany of things they wanted to do as soon as we got there. Batting cages, Cobies (the roadside ice cream shack that sells ice cream in MLB baseball caps), and of course, the General Store.
As we pulled into the driveway that first afternoon, the first question they asked was “when can we go to the General Store?”
Every day we didn’t go during the two weeks meant a negotiation regarding when we would go again.
One afternoon after spending the entire day on the beach, my eight year old whined that we had not gone on “an adventure” that day.
“The beach was an adventure,” I said. “We floated on tubes, built a sandcastle, played football…”
“That’s not an adventure,” he pouted.
“Well, what adventure do you want to go on then?”
His eyes lit up and he grinned, “Can we go to the General Store?”
It’s just candy. They can get the same candy at home. But my eight year old got it perfectly. Perusing a long aisle of brightly colored treats with other excited kids, picking out individual pieces of your all-time favorites, putting them into a small bag that seems created just for Penny Candy, and doing your own math – that’s an adventure. That’s what makes the penny candy store of old so great.