Thrift Candy, a New York sweet shop from childhood dreams

In This series for T, author Reggie Nadelson revisits New York institutions that have been defined for decades as exciting, from long-established restaurants to never-before-seen dive spots.

It is sometimes said that the oldest extant store of its kind in New York City is Economic candy on Rivington Street. Dating back to 1937, it not only sells a wide range of sweets – there are as many as 2,000 different varieties, according to its owners, from licorice to chocolate, kegs of root beer to jelly beans – but also The nostalgia that comes with finding your favorite childhood food. The last time I dropped in, on a cold December day, Here’s a win: The owners, Mitchell Cohen, 36, and Skye Greenfield Cohen, 32, saved me some Bonomo Turkish Taffy. Because this is a store with so many vintage candies, Cohen and Greenfield Cohen are always surrounded by emotional managers. “Just yesterday someone asked for Turkish Taffy,” Cohen told me. “But we only had three lines left so we said we’re sorry but they were for someone else.” I thanked him as if he had spent the last of the tins of a rare type of caviar.

As a child, I loved Turkish Taffy, and even the commercials: “Try it! Give it a crack! ” go jingle. Made with toasted egg whites and corn syrup, according to current company legend, it was invented by Herman Herer, an Austrian immigrant, in New York in 1912. Can’t wait until home When I got to the house, I ran out of the store and hit the bar. leaning against the wall, like when we were kids. I opened the plain yellow and white plastic cover and inside, the shards were still a distinctive yellow-orange color and a marzipan-like texture: hard and slightly sticky. I don’t let the pieces melt in my mouth like children are often told to chew. They stick to my teeth, so sweet and sublime.

Almost every classic candy has a story of its own, fans and even addicts and among the official Economy Candy staff are a large number of celebrities. During her 21st birthday concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 2009, Adele handed out sweets to the audience after declaring her love for the store.

And nothing strange. Candy Economy is a fun palace for shoppers of all ages: 2,000 square feet filled with sweet stuff – Jelly Belly and Hershey’s Kisses, marshmallow worms and Jordan almonds in pale purple, pink, blue and yellow. On the top shelves are collectibles, including vintage gum machines, and in the center of the space are tables that almost bear the weight of countless boxes of chocolate and licorice stacked on top of each other. , hard candy and Pop Rocks.

Cohen, whose parents, Jerry and Ilene Cohen, ran the store before him, grew up here. As a child, he liked to stand on the milk carton behind the counter and change the customers. (He said that’s how he got good at math.) After making a detour into the world of finance after college, he went back to the store. As is true of many New York food establishments piloted by third and even fourth generation store owners – among them the delicious auditorium. Russ & DaughterItalian specialty store Di Palo’s and German butchers Schaller & Weber – Candy Economy has largely been kept up and running, its traditions maintained, because of the passion and energy of its young owners.

Greenfield Cohen, who is married to Cohen, is also one of the family’s history keepers. Before the store moved to its current location at 108 Rivington Street in the early 80s, she said, it was located half a block away on the corner of Rivington and Essex streets. And before it was a candy store, it was a shoe and hat repair business. “Depending on who you ask, it’s King’s Shoe or Economy Shoe,” she says. “The story goes that it was at the urging of Jenny, Mitchell’s great-aunt, who was a child at the time, that the family opened a candy cart outside.” It became a full-fledged candy store in the late 1930s because, in the depths of the Great Depression, sweets were a better bet than shoe repair.

When Cohen’s grandfather Morris “Moishe” Cohen returned from battle in World War II, he and his brother-in-law, also a veteran, ran the store. In 1981, before Mitchell Cohen was born, Jerry and Ilene took over, and in 2013 Cohen left his position at Morgan Stanley to return to work with his parents. “I left my job, in advertising, four years later to join Mitchell,” says Greenfield Cohen. Cohen took her to the store on their first date. (“I didn’t know my parents were there,” he says with a laugh.)

During the lockdown period, when they were forced to close the shop temporarily, the couple used the time to renovate the space, put in a new floor, rearrange the candies on different tables. I kind of miss out on randomness, the chance for accidental discoveries, but in careful times like these it makes a lot of sense. They also expand their online business. “People will send neighbors – sometimes in the same town or even next door – a packet of candy just to say they’re thinking of them when they can’t visit,” says Cohen.

But nothing compares to losing yourself at Economy Candy. Whenever I walk in, it’s as if the surrounding road gives me a high exposure. There are American classics, including my own favorites: the Clark Bar, invented in Pittsburgh in 1917, with a crunchy peanut butter filling in the middle covered with milk chocolate. . Real German Haribo. And then there are fancy chocolates, dried fruit and nuts, Joyva halvah sold by the piece or by the loaf. Greenfield Cohen herself couldn’t resist the chocolate-covered crackers and graham crackers. But for me, it’s the candies that have the biggest appeal, because these little treats are how New York’s obsession with sweets was first satisfied on an industrial scale. .

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, confectioners were crafting delicacies like marzipan, sugar-coated rose petals, and even elaborate landscapes made from MSG (many recipes according to recipes from tea shops and ballrooms in Paris and London), intended almost exclusively for the rich. More affordable, mass-produced dishes – such as Necco Wafers, Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s Kisses – appeared later, in the mid and late 19th century. Long before the inhabitants of the Lower East Side. sipping $20 cocktails, this neighborhood was a working-class district and candy, later, became a working-class pastime. It already exists in the city when millions of immigrants come and find work on construction sites or work – a penny for a few minutes of fun is often as much as the Lower East Siders can afford and the shops. and candy carts seem to appear on every street. In the early 20th century, according to Greenfield Cohen, popular penny candies included Mary Janes, Bit-O-Honeys, Chick-O-Sticks, Bullseyes, and Sour Balls. “Sadly,” she said, “nothing costs a dime anymore. Now it works out to about five cents per person. “

However, the joy of those humble, momentary pleasures never fades. When I visited, it was near holiday time. Passing beneath the chubby child (tummy exposed, arms outstretched in joy) who since the 1990s, the emblem of Economy Candy, adorns the flag above the door, I entered and allowed myself to sink into the pleasures of childhood. Here’s the chocolate menorah and the Santa Claus Pez dispenser. There are Hershey’s Kisses candies and mint bark flavors. Dancing sugar plums might be some people’s idea of ​​​​Christmas, but this year, as always, all I want is an old fashioned candy-filled sleigh. Thrift Candy, a New York sweet shop from childhood dreams

Fry Electronics Team

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