Economy Candy, a New York confectionery out of childhood dreams

In these series for T, author Reggie Nadelson revisits the New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from centuries-...


In these series for T, author Reggie Nadelson revisits the New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from centuries-old restaurants to little-known dives.

It is sometimes said that the oldest existing store of its kind in New York City is Economical sweets on Rivington Street. Dating back to 1937, it not only sells a huge range of candies – up to 2,000 different kinds, according to its owners, from liquorice to chocolate, casks of root beer to jelly beans – but also the nostalgia that accompanies the search for your favorite childhood treat. . The last time I stopped, on a cold December day, From this point of view was a triumph: the owners, Mitchell Cohen, 36, and Skye Greenfield Cohen, 32, had saved me from the Bonomo Turkish Taffy. Because it’s a store that stocks so much vintage candy, Cohen and Greenfield Cohen are always besieged by sentimental patrons. “Someone came by asking for Turkish Taffy yesterday,” Cohen told me. “But we only had three bars left, so we said we were sorry but they were for someone else.” I thanked him like he put the last boxes aside of rare caviar.

As a child, I loved Turkish Taffy, and so did the ads: “Give it a slap!” Give it a crack! Said the jingle. Made from baked egg whites and corn syrup, it was invented, according to current corporate traditions, by Herman Herer, an Austrian immigrant, in New York City in 1912. Unable to wait for me to return at home I walked out of the store and slammed the bar. against the wall, like we did when we were kids. I peeled off the smooth yellow and white plastic wrap and inside the shards still had a slightly peculiar orange-yellow color and a nougat-like texture: hard and just a little sticky. I didn’t let the pieces melt in my mouth, as children were often advised, but chewed them. They stuck to my teeth, intensely soft and sublime.

Almost every variety of vintage candy has its own story, fans and even Economy Candy addicts and regulars are quite a few celebrities. At her 21st birthday concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 2009, Adele handed out candy to the public after declaring her affection for the store.

And no wonder. Economy Candy is a palate of pleasure for shoppers of all ages: 2,000 square feet filled with sweets – Jelly Belly and Hershey’s Kisses, gummy worms and Jordan almonds in pastel purple, pink, blue and yellow. On the uppermost shelves are collector’s items, including vintage gumball machines, and in the center of the space are tables that weigh almost under the weight of countless stacked cardboard boxes. Chocolate and Licorice, 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 a crate of milk behind the counter and give customers change. (He said that’s how he got good at math.) After a detour into the world of finance after college, he returned to the store. As is the case with so many New York food institutions run by third and even fourth generation merchants, one of which is the appetizing emporium Russ and girls, the Italian specialty store Di Palo and the German butcher Schaller & Weber – Economy Candy has been largely maintained and its traditions maintained, thanks to the passion and energy of its young owners.

Greenfield Cohen, who is married to Cohen, is also one of the keepers of family history. Before the store moved to its current location at 108 Rivington Street in the early 1980s, she said, it was half a block away on the corner of Rivington and Essex streets. And before it was a candy store, it was a hat and shoe repair business. “Depending on who you ask, it was either King’s Shoes or Economy Shoes,” she said. “The story goes that it was at the behest of Mitchell’s great aunt Jenny, who was a child at the time, that the family opened a cart selling candy outside.” It became a full-fledged confectionery store in the late 1930s because, in the depths of the Great Depression, sweets were a better bet than shoemakers.

When Cohen’s grandfather, Morris “Moishe” Cohen, returned from the fighting of 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 post at Morgan Stanley to return to work alongside his parents. “I quit my job in advertising four years later to join Mitchell,” Greenfield Cohen said. Cohen had taken her to the store on their first date. (“I didn’t know my parents were there,” he said with a laugh.)

During the pandemic containment, when they were forced to temporarily close the store, the couple took the opportunity to beautify the space, install a new floor, rearrange the assortments of sweets on the different tables. I miss the chance a little, the opportunity of fortuitous discoveries, but in these prudent times, it makes sense. They have also grown their business online. “People would send their neighbors – sometimes in the same town or even next door – a packet of candy just to say they were thinking of them when they couldn’t visit them,” Cohen said.

But nothing compares to getting lost at Economy Candy in person. Every time I walk in it’s like the surrounding sugar gives me a hovering touch. There are the American classics, including my favorites: the Clark Bar, invented in Pittsburgh in 1917, with a crispy peanut caramel center topped with milk chocolate, and the Chunky, a big little square of raisins and peanuts. coated in chocolate created in New York in the 1930s. There are entire sections devoted to imported pleasures: Crunchies from Great Britain, Violet Crumble from Australia, genuine German Haribo. And then there are the fancy chocolates, dried fruits and nuts, the Joyva halvah sold by the piece or by the loaf. Greenfield Cohen herself can’t resist graham crackers and chocolate covered pretzels. But it’s the penny candies that have the most appeal to me, as these miniature treats are how New York’s obsession with candy was first satisfied on an industrial scale.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, confectioners were making delicacies such as marzipan vegetables, sugar-coated rose petals, and even elaborate sceneries made from sweets (many followed salon recipes. tea rooms and ballrooms in Paris and London), which were intended almost entirely for the wealthy. More affordable mass-produced goodies, such as Necco Wafers, Tootsie Rolls, and Hershey’s Kisses, arrived later in the mid to late 19th century. Long before the people of the Lower East Side sipped $ 20 cocktails, the neighborhood was a working-class neighborhood and candy then became a working-class treat. He settled in the city as millions of immigrants arrived and found work on construction sites or piecemeal – a penny for a few minutes of fun was often as much as the Lower East Siders could afford. and shops and carts selling candy appeared in all the streets. . At the turn of the 20th century, according to Greenfield Cohen, popular penny candies included the Mary Janes, Bit-O-Honeys, Chick-O-Sticks, Bullseyes, and Sour Balls. “Unfortunately,” she said, “nothing costs a dime anymore. Now it comes down to about five cents a piece.

Yet the joy of these modest, momentary delicacies never wavered. When I visited, it was almost vacation time. Passing under the chubby kid (belly visible, arms outstretched with joy) who, since the 1990s, has been the logo of Economy Candy, adorning the flag above his door, I entered and let myself fall back into the pleasures of childhood. Here were chocolate menorahs and Pez dispensers in the shape of Santa Claus. There were Hershey’s Kisses flavored with sugar cane and peppermint rind. Sugar plum dancing may be some people’s idea of ​​Christmas, but this year, as always, all I wanted was a sleigh full of good old-fashioned candy.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Economy Candy, a New York confectionery out of childhood dreams
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