When I was a kid, I lived in a tiny suburb of a tiny town in Northern Utah. River Heights had an elementary school, a couple of churches, and a cemetery — but no grocery stores, banks, or gas stations. If you wanted to do your weekly grocery shopping, you got into the car and made the trip to the Albertsons or Smith’s Food King in downtown Logan. But if you just wanted to pick up a snack or a soda, there were a few miniscule neighborhood markets nearby, each sitting smack dab in the middle of a bunch of old homes. These weren’t convenience stores, in the modern sense of the word, and they were all owned and run by families or older couples who usually lived in the second floor of the building.
During my youth, I spent a lot of time at the house of my two best friends. Shari and Shona were twins and the oldest in a typical Mormon family of six or seven kids. They lived in a modest home, surrounded by a huge vegetable garden and fruit trees, just above the river. Money was tight for the family and while there was plenty of food at meals, there were no sweet treats to nosh on when we would get hungry between meals. Luckily, there was one of these neighborhood markets just across the bridge and down the block – this one run by a rather cranky old guy we called the Candy Man.
The Candy Man’s market had a great selection regular candy: Hershey bars, M&M’s, Tootsie Rolls, Big Hunks, Idaho Spuds, and Chunky bars. He also had jars of penny candy, as well as candy buttons, wax lips, Pixie Sticks, candy cigarettes, and those little wax pop bottles filled with colored syrup.
If you wanted gum, the Candy Man offered Bazooka, gumballs, Fruit Stripe gum, Razzles (first it’s a candy, then it’s a gum!), and bubble gum with trading cards – like my favorite, Wacky Packages.
The best thing about the Candy Man was that, after you became a regular, you didn’t have to have money to buy snacks! He seemed to understand the problem of being an 11-year-old with no job and a tiny allowance. One glorious day, as the twins and I pooled our nickels to buy a small selection of penny candy, the Candy Man told us that if we brought him coupons, we could get our candy free. Initially, we were confused – we didn’t really know what coupons were or how they were used. The Candy Man educated us, showing us a few coupons for products like toilet paper and cereal and telling us we could find them in magazines and sometimes the newspaper (this was before the days of the Sunday newspapers having two or three coupon inserts). He explained that he would take any coupon for anything he sold in the store – and he would give us half the value of the coupon to spend on candy!
Needless to say, we were on a mission! No magazine or newspaper was safe from us. On a good week, we managed to find a dollar or two worth of coupons – allowing us to buy a significant amount of sweet stuff! Every so often, the Candy Man would slide a coupon back to us, telling us he didn’t stock that particular product – but for the most part, he took almost every coupon we were able to collect.
That summer, I was spending a few weeks at my grandmother’s house in Idaho. This particular grandma was old and rather gruff, and had no television. My sister and I were often left to our own devices and played outside most of the time. However, on this visit I found a cupboard that was full of Reader’s Digest magazines! I was thrilled and promptly sat on the floor and began to page through them to find some coupons to take home with me. I’m sad to say, the pickings were few and far between and I began to get frustrated. My grandmother, who was walking by and heard my loud sigh, stopped and asked what I was doing. I explained the story of the Candy Man and my quest for coupons for free candy. My grandmother listened dispassionately and then said, “You know, that is illegal. He is only supposed to take a coupon when a customer uses it to buy that particular product.” I was stunned and disillusioned – the Candy Man was a crook! However, that didn’t stop me from going through the rest of the magazines to make sure there were no more coupons to be had.
When I returned home, I gathered my coupons and rode my bike to the twin’s house – excited to visit the Candy Man’s market and score some more free candy (I had a small criminal mind and the lure of candy overcame any moral objection I may have fleetingly experienced). The twins broke the heartbreaking news – the Candy Man’s market was closed and shuttered. According to the arrest blotter in the local paper, he had been picked up for coupon fraud. It was a sad, sad day.
I’m not sure what happened to the Candy Man. His shop never opened again and we were, once again, forced to resort to paying actual cash when we wanted a sugar infusion.
Dammit — now I want a sugar infusion! Since Idaho Spuds are a regional candy, and not sold in my state, tell me about your favorite candy (from childhood or now). Maybe I can try something new and delicious!