Quick! Think of all the summers you spent as a kid and what comes to mind? In the montage of your memories -- swimming in the river, chasing fireflies, being bored to tears -- chances are there's a vignette involving a candy store. Penny candy, perhaps, such as Boston Baked Beans, Tootsie Rolls, candy lipsticks, fire balls? Lemonheads, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Sugar Babies? Or maybe you preferred a single Charleston Chew or Marathon bar.
It's all coming back now, isn't it? And just in time, too. June is National Candy Month, as declared by, well, some marketing firm or candy council, no doubt, but it certainly is more fun than June's other "official" designations. (Why, for example, is June "Fireworks Safety Month?" Wouldn't that be more appropriately celebrated in say, July?)
In any case, candy remains as popular today as it was way back in those long ago days when you could buy a licorice rope for a penny. The difference, of course, is that you'd be hard pressed to find any candy for a penny today.
The data banks of my childhood memories in Fairfield are laden with sugar. My brothers and sisters and I would walk to Kreshpan's, a deli where Avellino's restaurant now sits on the Post Road. We'd enter the dark little store with pockets full of change and emerge with bubble gum cigars.
Sharon Mucci now lives in Florida, but remembers Kreshpan's. "It was a little hole in the wall with lots of candy up front. Penny candy ... Mary Janes, Bit o' Honey, candy cigarettes, bubble gum cigarettes (smoking was big in those days), jaw breakers, Bazooka, candy necklaces and the list goes on and on. We sure knew how to fill up a bag of candy!"
As I got older, and my geographical boundaries expanded, I was introduced to the joys of Demattia's, a five-minute walk from Oldfield School. There, my friends and I would torment the grouchy old man behind the counter and ask, "How much are the Wacky Wafers? How much is the Fun Dip? How much are the Blow Pops?" (Why they didn't mark the boxes with prices is beyond me.) I personally preferred the Astro Pops and the long, flat watermelon Jolly Rancher sticks.
Meredith Santarcangelo had similar memories of DeMattia's. "I would walk to DeMattia's Market (by myself) to buy my mom a pack of True Green 100's, lottery tickets and I was able to get some Razzles and blue soda. Such simpler times. Also, I'd always buy one dollar's worth of penny candy and have Grandma DeMattia count it all out ... and then I'd change my mind and get a Charleston Chew. I'm sure she wanted to smack me upside the head."
On the opposite side of Fairfield, kids walked to the Stratfield Pharmacy and the Reader's Den to stock up on goodies. "We used to walk down to the "corner store" -- Stratfield Pharmacy -- and we would buy all kinds of penny candy," said Deanna Sheng. "Mostly fireballs and those long candy sticks that came in tons of flavors. We'd twirl them around in our mouths until they were super pointy. Gobstoppers were also a favorite."
Kim Quinn remembered a time when there weren't any seatbelt laws. "My grandfather would take nine grandchildren in his VW bug to Duchess and then Scott's Stationery (where CVS is now). I would also walk to Brother's (across from Ganim's Nursery) and in high school we went to the Reader's Den. In my youth it was all about baseball cards with the `cardboard' gum. I am still addicted to candy cigarettes (the sugar sticks), although the gum cigarette that you could blow smoke from was fun."
In Westport, the place to catch a sugar high was the Ice Cream Parlor. "My mom would take me there on Saturday mornings to load up before a matinee," said Jonathan Chernes. "Mary Janes, fire balls and wax teeth were faves. And don't forget Pixy Stix."
Look back at all these stores and you'll see they have one thing in common: None of them exist any more. All of our favorite penny candy haunts are merely ghosts now. So where do kids go to get candy these days?
In downtown Fairfield, Sweet Rexie's certainly stocks something for every kind of sweet tooth. "The most popular candies right now are Sour Power Belts," said Kerrin Gildae. The long, flat gummy candies come in flavors like blueberry, green apple, watermelon and strawberry banana. But there's an entire display of retro candies that don't go unnoticed. "We have Bit o' Honeys, Mary Janes, Ice Cubes, Bulls Eyes," she said. "And Satellite Wafers," she said, pointing to the pastel-colored, UFO-shaped candies. "People come in and say, `I haven't seen those in so long.' " A popular favorite among adults, she said, are the licorice wheels. All of the bulk candy sells for $2.99 a quarter pound, which calculates out to a bit more than a penny. Actually, more like 20 cents.
Las Vetas, the coffee shop next to the Community Theater, has its own little candy outpost called "Badger Candy Kitchen aka Cassie's Candies." You can find gems such as Chick O Sticks, Necco Wafers and Slap Stix there.
Other than that, it seems like pharmacies are the place to go for candy these days. Out of all the chain drug stores -- CVS, Walgreen's, Rite Aid -- Walgreen's seems to offer the most diversity, ranging from plain old gum drops to all the super sour candies that are popular today.
The days of wax lips may be long gone for most of us, taken over by the guilty pleasures of liqueur-enhanced truffles and squares of 70 percent dark chocolate, but there's something about summer that just begs for a bit of nostalgia. Here's a thought: Why not get a little crazy tonight and skip the sorbet? Instead, trade it for a marshmallow cone or a candy necklace.
Email Patti Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sweet Rexie's, 1552 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-254-3254: Lots and lots of bulk candy, novelty items, ice cream and toys.
Las Vetas, 27 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-255-1958: Even though this is a coffee shop, the place has a strange little candy set-up at the counter where you can find some nostalgic favorites.