Food For Thought: Penny Candy And A Corner Store

When I was growing up our neighborhood had a small corner store. It was one of those corner stores that is on the first level of a building and the owner lives above his store. Our street was off of the main road this corner store was located on and our home was within short walking distance. A few times a month during the warmer months my sister and I would walk with our mother to the corner store. Looking back now, it was most likely when my mother needed a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk and didn’t want to travel all the way to the grocery store across town.

Tony was always at the counter, and Tony always had loose candy, “penny candy,” in the glass case underneath the counter. It was really more than penny candy, more like 5 or 10 cents per piece, but we always called it penny candy. My mother would always let us each pick out a few pieces: Now n’ Laters, Starbursts, Charleston Chews, Fireballs, Sugar Daddy’s, bubble gum – either Bubble Yum or Bubble Tape, and many more I don’t remember the names of. But I do remember being able to point to the candy in the case and Tony would take them out one by one and line them up on the counter for us to make our final decision (and my mother to give the final ok) before he put them into the bag. In my own little paper bag I would take home five or six pieces of penny candy.

When we were a little older my sister and I were allowed to walk to the corner store ourselves and pick out our own candy while picking up a gallon of milk or loaf of bread. All the neighborhood kids would walk or ride their bikes to Tony’s running errands for mom or grandma and also coming out with a fistful or pocketful or little bag full of candy. The candy was a kind of currency in the neighborhood and trades of the lose candy would happen regularly. Sometimes the lose candy was the reward of winning a card game with the neighborhood kids, other times it was simply just sharing a favorite or a new candy with a friend, and some kids were mean about it and would tease the others when they had candy and no one else did. At some point Tony’s store closed down, I don’t know how he stayed in business, the store was always only half full of products, but nonetheless, our source of penny candy within a short walking distance left when he did.

I hadn’t thought about Tony’s corner store or the lose penny candy in a really long time. I only eat a Now n’Later or one of the other candies maybe once a year or every other year. When I do, I slowly unfold the little candy out of its wrapper very carefully and thoughtfully as I would as a young child, and I fondly remember summer walks to the corner store and my little brown paper bag.

About two weeks ago an article in was printed in the New York Times about the science of junk food: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss (if you didn’t see it, you can read it here at the New York Times online). The article basically talks about how junk food has been engineered over the years so that it is very addictive. I found the article fascinating because we all have our favorite junk foods – the foods we can’t put down, and the ones I cannot keep in the house for that very reason. So I basically had junk food on the brain after reading the article. I try not to eat junk food very often, but when I do many of them are childhood favorites, coveted treats I was not allowed very often but which I still think of every once in a while. Did this trigger visions of penny candy dancing in my head? No. It took a visit to the dollar story to remember the penny candy. Seriously, the dollar store. I very rarely go to the dollar story, but once in a while I’ll stop in and buy cleaning supplies and wrapping paper.

This visit to a local dollar store was perfect timing about a week after reading this article because I happened to walk down the candy aisle and what did I see? ALL the candies we used to buy as loose “penny candy” at the corner store when I was a kid.

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I was so very excited about the candy aisle my husband had to drag me out of it, but not before I picked out one, just one I hadn’t had in a very long time, a Charleston Chew was needed to commemorate my trip to the store and my trip down memory lane.

For the past two weeks I’ve been thinking on and off about Michael Moss’s article about junk food and my visit down the candy aisle which brought back some memories I’d put somewhere in the far recesses of my brain. Those Charleston Chews, they tasted just as good as they did when I was a kid and just as I had remembered them. The only difference is their packaging is a little different then the penny sized ones from years ago.

My Food for Thought this week? There are some junk foods we remember fondly, and the happy memories and feelings associated with those junk foods, especially the ones you experience as a child I think are just as addictive as any type of junk food. I know there is some junk food I’m addicted to purely for the food itself (hello doritos and cheetos), but for other foods I’m just as addicted to the memories and feelings tied up with the food as the food itself.

What are your junk food addictions? Any junk food memories?

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