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Who Remembers…Penny Candy!


Here is another installment in our Who Remembers? series. You can browse previous articles by using the search bar on the right or by clicking here. These articles are strolls down memory lane. In some cases the buildings, but new businesses have replaced them. In other instances, the buildings or even the properties have been razed. Instead of a building, it may be a TV show, personality, or commercial that no one longer exists. Either way, it can’t stop us from taking the Memory Lane stroll!

As always we would rather this be a discussion. No one knows this area better than those who grew up here! Please, leave constructive criticism, feedback, and corrections. We’d love to hear your anecdotes. Please share!

This installment of “Who Remembers…?” is kind of melancholic. Visiting Penny Candy is a bummer, since there are only a few bastions of sugar remaining. While you certainly may find packages of old penny candy favorites, or even “2 cent candy” or “nickle candy,” you’d be hard pressed to find PENNY candy. Regardless, it’s just not the same. It wasn’t only about the candy. It was about the experience.

I guess, identifying with penny candy and waxing nostalgic about it simultaneously outs one as “old.” It’s how I felt when I told my daughter when she was 8-9 years old about pay phones and she thought I was pulling my leg. “Why would you put a coin in a phone, when you have a cell phone.” Remember the spiral chords? Rotary dials? If you remember cranking the phone to get an operator, then you are positively Jurassic. Anyhow, that’s another article for another day.

Bazooka Joe’s: gum, advice and a comic!

As a kid, there was something special about being gifted with a dollar. Heck, even fifty cents. When that George Washington was put in your palm, you could feel all the neurons in your brain fire at once. Your salivary glands would explode in anticipation. That boring, dull day just became one of the best days ever. The first thing I would think of was finding my brother or a good friend to share in the stroke of good luck.

Penny candy wasn’t just about the candy. It was about the experience. It was about taking your sibling or best friend with you. It was about racing into the store to gaze at the shelves of what – in my mind at least – was a million choices of candy, stacked to the ceiling! It was about grabbing a brown paper lunch bag and trying to fill it to the brim. It was when you didn’t need safety seals. It was about the trust that the proprietor extended you – he didn’t watch over you. He knew you would taste the merchandise, but that was OK.

You can head to that chain to buy the 99 cent bag of assorted fish, spice drops or circus peanuts all you want. It just isn’t the same.

As those of you who are regular readers may recall, I lived a sort of gypsy lifestyle moving all around the the greater New Bedford area. This meant I became an expert at penny candy. A connoisseur if you will. A grandmaster of Squirrel Nut Zipper-Fu. My fondest spots were Bob & Eileen’s on County Street and Chris’ Variety on Main Street in Fairhaven.

Do you remember the paper receipts with the small dots of hard candy? I think they were called Candy Buttons. There was Abba-Zaba, atomic Fireballs, Bit-O-Honey, Pixy Sticks, Bazooka Joe bubble gum and Baseball chocolate balls. There were candy necklaces, chocolate coins, red hot dollars, Mexican hats, root beer barrels, nonpareils, Göetzes, and Mary Janes! The list goes on and on!

Mexican hats were my personal favorite. Especially the green and black ones!

Of course, there was always a few extra coins about, so we’d purchase more than we could…or should have. But that was also OK, because it just meant we had to shrink the packed bag down before we got home for the “mom inspection.” It was fun to have her inspect the lot and “steal” a few of her favorites – always followed by a playful “HEY!” from us.

The vast majority of the time, the best way to polish of a bag was to race to the bedroom and pull out some comic books, sprinkling each page with sugar!

Then one of the most glorious treats of all: the medley of crumbs, bits and sugar that sat at the bottom of the brown paper bag. I wonder how many times we’ve straightened that bag out, and formed a funnel to savor those sweet remnants.

While candy goes back 5,000 years, Penny Candy made its debut sometime circa 1896 with the Tootsie Roll at Woolworth’s Five and Dime. Of course, the popularity of the Tootsie Roll inspired Woolworth’s to expand into an entire Penny Candy Aisle.

It’s sad that the entire experience has disappeared. Penny candy no longer cost a penny, there are no more brown paper bags or “trusting” proprietors. No more sugar sprinkled comic book pages. No more testing the merchandise. The next best thing is a place like Emma Jean’s or Billy Boy Candy. And we can always reminisce.

But it just won’t be the same.

About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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  1. Out in Provincetown there’s still a little place right across from the Town Hall called the Penny Patch. He sells house-made fudge, salt water taffy and of course, a huge variety of penny candy.
    I spent my teen years stirring fudge pots and counting up baskets full of 1-10¢ Tootsie Rolls, Squirrel Nuts Zippers, Ice Cubes and all the little things you remember.

    • I remember a few of those penny candies pictured on this site I grew up in Newbedford in the 60’s and 70’s in the south end near the beach right on the corner of Cove Street and Cleveland Street I lived their in my mothers house that now belongs to my sister. we moved their from New York in 1964 and I left Newbedford in1987. I still miss Newbedford even though I live in Hialeah Gardens Florida I’ve been living here now longer than I lived in Newbedford Newbedford 23 years Hialeah Gardens 28 years. I left Newbedford when I was 27 years old Now I am 55 Time flies when you are having fun. I love Newbedford it shall always be in my heart. From a former New Englander keep up the good work I shall always Remember

  2. Anne (Danzell) Miller

    Barton’s on Summer Street and Jerry’s Variety on Locust Steet. Played baseball cards against the building while kneeling in the gutter. Can’t imagine kids doing that today. Just hanging out.

  3. I used to go to Dotties on Allen st. Which turned to Rebeccas Variety. Now its a parking lot.

  4. Johnny Papa ‘s on purchase street. He was the neighborhood kids’ favorite “uncle”. He not only had the best candy he would extend credit to people when times were tough. He would watch out for us kids and set us straight when needed. An all around great guy.

    • I remember Johnny Papa’s right across from T. A. Green School. I lived right across the street from the T.A. Green School. I’ve been away from New Bedford for over 25 years. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to take a look back.

  5. Ricky’s Variety Store on Middle Rd in Acushnet MA

  6. On my way to school @ St.Killians, there was Fay’s Variety store between Hathaway St. & Earle St. on Ashley Blvd. I had to pass it everyday and couldn’t resist the temptation to go in. They had a great selection of penny candy! Great memories!!!

  7. I lived on Earle St and used to go to Fay’s and Scotty’s which was on the corner of Ashley Blvd and Davis St. I used to get my baseball cards from there also and Dot’s Card Shop on the Ave between Earle and Davis. There was also another little variety store on the corner of Hathaway st and Brook St. My father would write me a note to get him a pack of Lucky Strikes. I love all these great memories. Remember Bob the Barber on the Blvd right acroos from St Killian’s church? Tavano’s on the corner of Earle and Church? Also used to get penny candy from Al’s Variety on Church St near Glennon St.

  8. I remember Bob and Eileens. The guy I always remember was the cranky cigar smoking old guy. I think the cans was behind a counter or something. I lived about a block away on LaFrance Ct. Thanks for the flashback!

  9. Ricky’s Variety, near Ball’s Corner. Favorites included Squirrels, wax milk bottles, candy cigarettes, creme filled caramels, hot balls, jellied fruit slices, and turkish taffy.

  10. Wareham center every Friday eve when my mom would go to the bank we always got a quarter to go next door to the five and ten also marion pharmacy the cashier would hand you a small brown paper bag to fill and then dump it out on the counter to total

  11. Ricky’s! I think our school bus actually stopped there for us Acushnet kids on our way home!

  12. I do and what about Charlie the midget’s on purchase st., I think it was called veterans variety, and then there was jerry’s on hazard an state st., vanauses on Austin an county and the best was Tony’s variety on Achusnet ave next door to the Rialto movie theater, later moving to purchase st across from giammalvo’s

    • I remember all three of those. I grew up on county st between austin & hazard. We called the one on county & austin “pops” or “mom & pops”. Went to Jerry’s a lot.

  13. I think the store I went to was Tony Mores on the corner of Tarklyn Hill and Ashley Blvd.

  14. We used to stock up at the candy store near the Capitol Theater on the Ave. on our way to Saturday afternoon movies. In addition, there was a candy store near OLPH on Coggeshall St. between the Ave and Howard. But we were never allowed to choose our own. The candy was in the glass cabinet. We told the owner and he filled the bags. We always had 10 cents. My favorite were the nonpareils and Mary Janes….Dark chocolate is still my favorite but I’ve moved up into Lindt 70%…..

  15. I fondly remember my favorite penny candy store as a kid. It was Aunt Bee’s at Lunds Corner, across the street from the current CVS. My brother and I would complete our chores and get 50 cents spending money and walk up to Aunt Bee’s and fill a brown paper bag. The world was a different place back then. Kids today have it made……

  16. I used to buy my cany at Tip Top on County Street

  17. I remember going to Vees Variety on Rt. 6 in North Dartmouth for the best penny candy

  18. I was in the sixth grade in 1972. You could leave school at lunchtime and walk anywhere you wanted. A local liquor store would cook you a frozen pizza while you picked out penny candy which they sold as well. I remember filling my little paper bag which would hold as dollar’s worth of candy. My how time has changed. No penny candy, leaving a school campus at age 12 or going into a liquor store by yourself as a child.

  19. Barbara (Ponte) Bracken

    I went to St Killians, graduating in 1960 and I do remember Fays Variety for penny candy,
    My best friend Pat and I would go to Sardina’s
    Variety store on Branscomb St in the North End
    Everyday after school

  20. My Auntie Lena’s store on Park street!! Squirrel Nuts, Sweedish Fish, Baseball Gum…..also Frasiers on I think Court St….where the candy was behind the partition and we would point out the ones we wanted and watch that bag fill up and get a sugar high on the way home from Keith Jr High or New Bedford High!!! Then lastly there was a store across from Buttonwood Park…Good sweet memories!!

  21. Charlie’s variety store on Rockdale Ave and Parker St.

  22. So many memories walking down Cottage St. with my grandfather holding my hand, telling us stories on the way to “Ralph’s Variety” between Campbell St. and Smith St. (I think?)… There was also Thomas’ on County across the street from my father’s store.

  23. There was a penny candy store on the corner of Ashley Blvd and Tarkiln Hill Rd. We would ride our bikes there

  24. A little variety store on belleville rd. its now a generator place. was born in the 3 decker house next to the store. remember the penny candy. those were the days 60+ years ago.

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