Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kid Without a Candy Store

I JUST RETURNED FROM a much-needed dinner at my parents' house, to discover a distressing fact: My town candy store is closing. I spotted a huge realty sign beneath the name of the joint as I drove by. And I was just in there last week for Valentine's Day.

I don't know yet whether the owner is retiring, or if this is the sad result of a downturn in business, but either way, it diminishes a chunk of my town's past by one. Grump that I am, I'm against it.

I'm not sure precisely when this shop opened. I believe they moved to my town from one of the Paramus malls, which would put it in the early 80s or so. That would put their lifespan at 25 years, which today seems like a lifetime, given the fugitive nature of establishments like cellphone stores and Chinese food joints.

One of the greatest traitors to my waistline has been the humble Gummi raspberry/blackberry blend. Alone among the Gummis, I am powerless to resist them. Sure, they turn your tongue a weird brown, and I prefer not to speculate on where the gelatin comes from, or for how long it remains in my system. But ever since I stumbled across these damn things in high school, sold in bulk at the local Shop Rite, I've been a virtual William S. Burroughs, haunting the mall or supermarket candy pits for a fix, weighing out the hookup and gauging whether my meager earnings would cover it, and then dashing off to my car to sample them. I can recall grinding my way through some particularly stale batches of Gummis, wondering why the hell I ever got these things in the first place . . . and then figuring whether I had time to hit the candy store at the Garden State Plaza before meeting up with my friends at the Triplex for, say, Robocop.

Access to these Gummis grew scarce at college, where I instead fixated on the Harmony Snacks brand of jellybeans, sold at the snack shop in the commons. It seemed I was hooked on hand-to-mouth-style candy. On and off through the Nineties, I kicked the habit, steering my intake to healthier fare, only to be sabotaged by breakup misery, or the rise of the PC computer game as graphics cards grew ever stronger. I recall spending many Saturday nights in the summer of 1996, while my roommate the mighty Felix was violating Jersey Shore noise and open-container ordinances, commandeering his PC to explore the depths of Quake, Master of Magic, and Hexen, with a brimming bag of Gummi candy sitting next to the monitor. Autofire, glucose, and Nine Inch Nails.

When I moved to this town, I noticed the local candy shop had later hours during the summer on Thursday nights. I began a ritual: hop off the bus from NYC each Thursday, grab a half-pound of Gummi berries, and catch up on Web surfing while listening to Dave the Spazz on WFMU. Depending on how trying a week it had been, sometimes I would goose that purchase up to three quarters, or even a full pound if I had movie plans that weekend. (I never once bought that overpriced candy from the theatre 'round the corner!) I was a "regular," in that the owner and counter-folks knew to reach for the jar of Gummi berries when I jingled their door. Often, from my expression or walk, they would correctly guess my required dosage.

I visited less frequently in the past year and change. I consciously tried to reduce my sugar intake and, with a switch to during-the-week vegetarianism, I also cut out the gelatin. To quell the sugar jones when it becomes irresistible, I seek out a brand of organic vegetarian jellybeans at Whole Foods. Still, I do visit this candy store for my mom's birthday, Valentine's Day, and once for my boss, when she was some years back. And when I hit the place last week, I grabbed some Gummi berries for myself, just as a VD present.

I had no inkling that they might be near closure.

So of course I will have to hit the candy store this weekend, find out the scoop, either sympathize at the closure or congratulate them on retirement, as warranted, and snag one last bag of Gummis. I hope the next tenant is a unique business like this one, unlike the Starbucks that Borged the formerly indie coffeehouse, or the overpriced Cold Stone Creamery that replaced the departed Baskin-Robbins where I used to get my birthday cones about a zillion years ago. We already have the gentrified brick-paved crosswalks and the vintage streetlights like every other New Jersey town center. Would it be so much to ask to attract a local merchant who might keep the profits somewhere in the community and not in some Barad-Dûr–like corporate tower half a continent away?

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