Spokane Journal of Business

Stocking sweet memories

The Original Penny Candy Store

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COEUR DALENEThe most common phrase uttered by customers upon entering the store where Judy Norton works here is, I feel like a kid in a candy store.

With all due respect to those customersduh.

The Original Penny Candy Store, nestled among the other downtown storefronts in this lakeside city, sells nothing but candymore than 400 varieties from 20 countries, says Norton, the stores manager.

Basket after basket is piled high with the treats, which include a rainbow-colored selection of taffy, toffees, licorice, chocolates, hard candies, and soft caramels.

There are Squirrel Nut Zippers, Abba-Zabas, Horehound Gems, Atomic FireBalls, and Walnettos, not to mention Sugar Daddies, Kits, and Root Beer Barrels.

Norton, who has worked at the store for seven years, says that toiling amid the sugary (and sugar-free) splendor isnt hard labor.

Theres so many different selections, I never get tired of sampling the candy. I just absolutely love being in this atmosphere.

Her biggest weakness, she confesses, is for licorice, a preference shared by many customers.

Shoppers at the Original Penny Candy Store can mix their selections to suit their tastes, because almost all of the candy costs the same$5.99 a pound.

That works out to more than a penny apiece, Norton acknowledges. Its more like 6 cents to 8 cents apiece, but thats not bad, considering how inflation has been in the U.S. since the days when candy really cost a penny, she contends.

Antiques and candy

A Hayden Lake couple, Jim and Mary Cate, opened the store a decade ago at the northwest corner of Sherman Avenue and Fourth Street, where its still located in the heart of downtown.

Jim Cate, an avid antique collector and sometime dealer, had this incredible antique collection, and he wanted a place to display it, Norton says. He felt that candy and antiques go well together.

About a third of the shops space is devoted to Cates antiques, which include retail display cases and store fixtures, product tins, advertising signs, and even an old post-office tellers cage. The collection is set up to look like the interior of an old-time general store.

None of the antiques is for sale, but they attract people to the store as much as the candy, Norton says.

Cate, who is retired, selects the stores inventory of confections and keeps its books, but neither he nor his wife work there.

In addition to Norton, the shop has three other employees. During the winter, just one person handles each shift, but employees double up during the busy summer months, she says. The store also extends its hours then, remaining open until 8 p.m. to entice visitors strolling along Sherman Avenue in the evening, she says.

Its not surprising that the bulk of the stores business is done in the summer, when downtown Coeur dAlene is awash with visitors. About 85 percent of the stores customers are tourists. Many of the visitors are adults, and Norton dispels the notion that candy stores are the exclusive territory of kids.

I think the older generation enjoys coming in as much as the younger generation, she says.

Some customers cant get enough of the stores yummy products. To satisfy their cravings, Norton will pack and mail candies upon request.

We get quite a number of orders that way, she says.

In keeping with its old-fashioned theme, the shop seeks out and stocks candies that were popular 30, 40, or even 50 years ago, she says.

We like to have candies that people havent seen for years, so when they come in, they reminisce about what it used to be like going to a penny-candy store.

Among adults, popular items seem to be the black-licorice candies, including licorice cigars and pipes, she says. Kids like the wide variety of gummy candies. Overall, however, Mary Janes, a peanut butter-and-molasses confection that first hit the market in 1914, and Walnettos, walnut-flavored chews that are another old-time favorite, are the biggest sellers, she says.

As many people used to do, some customers buy candies for medicinal purposes. They ask for double-salted licorice to soothe coughs and colds, and choose eucalyptus menthol candies to get relief from sinus trouble, Norton says.

Patrons can ask that the store try to find their old-time favorites. They make frequent requests for sugar candies that are attached to strips of paper, as well as for wax soda pop bottles that contain flavored syrups, Norton says.

The shop has carried those two items in the past, but theyre a little more difficult to find than other goodies, she says.

The store has no plans to expand, move, or change anything, Norton says. It does well in this growing North Idaho town, and thrives on word-of-mouth advertising alone, she says, although she declines to release the stores annual sales.

Says Norton, The town really complements the store, and the store complements the town.

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